Objects and events in the attentional blink

D. Sheppard, J. Duncan, K. Shapiro, Anne Hillstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When two visual targets, T1 and T2, are presented in rapid succession, detection or identification of T2 is almost universally degraded by the requirement to attend to T1 (the attentional blink, or AB). One interesting exception occurs when T1 is a brief gap in a continuous letter stream and the task is to discriminate its duration. One hypothesized explanation for this exception is that an AB is triggered only by attention to a patterned object. The results reported here eliminate this hypothesis. Duration judgments produced no AB whether the judged duration concerned a short gap in the letter stream (Experiment 1) or a letter presented for slightly longer than others (Experiment 2). When identification of an identical longer letter T1 was required (Experiment 3), rather than a duration judgment, the AB was reestablished. Direct perceptual judgments of letter streams with gaps embedded showed that whereas brief gaps result in the percept of a single, briefly hesitating stream, longer gaps result in the percept of two separate streams with a separating pause. Correspondingly, an AB was produced in Experiment 4, when participants were required to judge the duration of longer T1 gaps. We propose that, like spatially separated objects, temporal events are parsed into discrete, hierarchically organized events. An AB is triggered only when a new attended event is defined, either when a long pause creates a new perceived stream (Experiment 4) or when attention shifts from the stream to the letter level (Experiment 3).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-415
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002


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