The time course of attention: It's better than we thought.

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What is the time course of attention? Research using rapid-stimulus streams has suggested that it is rather slow: Attention takes half a second to recover from processing one thing before it can process the next. This period is referred to as the attentional blink, and it is thought to reflect a fundamental bottleneck in conscious processing. If this period does exist, such a limitation would have severe consequences in real-life situations in which multiple events may rapidly succeed each other (e.g., in traffic). However, findings that support the attentional blink are at odds with other findings indicating that attention is not reduced, but enhanced, following potentially important occurrences. The article reviews evidence that these opposite effects are actually closely related. The attentional blink is a consequence of selection mechanisms that are not severely limited, but have an adaptive function: They enhance perception in response to relevant information but suppress perception in response to irrelevant information. It means that humans are better geared for real life than was previously thought. Copyright, © 2007 Association for Psychological Science.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-15
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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