Neural competition for conscious representation across time: An fMRI study

Heleen A. Slagter, Tom Johnstone, Iseult A.M. Beets, Richard J. Davidson

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink (AB) - a deficit in identifying the second of two temporally-close targets (T1 and T2) embedded in a rapid stream of distracters. Theories of the AB generally agree that it results from competition between stimuli for conscious representation. However, they disagree in the specific mechanisms, in particular about how attentional processing of T1 determines the AB to T2. Methodology/Principal Findings: The present study used the high spatial resolution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural mechanisms underlying the AB. Our research approach was to design T1 and T2 stimuli that activate distinguishable brain areas involved in visual categorization and representation. ROI and functional connectivity analyses were then used to examine how attentional processing of T1, as indexed by activity in the T1 representation area, affected T2 processing. Our main finding was that attentional processing of T1 at the level of the visual cortex predicted T2 detection rates Those individuals who activated the T1 encoding area more strongly in blink versus noblink trials generally detected T2 on a lower percentage of trials. The coupling of activity between T1 and T2 representation areas did not vary as a function of conscious T2 perception. Conclusions/Significance: These data are consistent with the notion that the AB is related to attentional demands of T1 for selection, and indicate that these demands are reflected at the level of visual cortex. They also highlight the importance of individual differences in attentional settings in explaining AB task performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10556
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


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