An Electrophysiological Investigation into the Role of Cognitive Control in the Attentional Blink
MacLean, Mary H.
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Accuracy at reporting a second-target (T2) is reduced if it is presented within approximately 500 ms of the first target (T1) – an attentional blink (AB). Early models explained the AB in terms of attentional limitations creating a processing bottleneck such that T2 processing would be impaired while T1 processing was ongoing. Theoretical models of the AB have more recently been expanded to include the role of cognitive control. In this dissertation I propose that cognitive control, defined as the optimization of information processing in order to achieve goals, is maladapted to the dual-task conditions of the AB task in that cognitive control optimizes the T1 goal, due to its temporal proximity, at the cost of T2. I start with the concept that the role of cognitive control is to serve goals, and that how goals are conceived of and the degree of motivation associated with those goals will determine whether cognitive control will create the condition that cause the AB. This leads to the hypothesis that electrophysiological measures of cognitive control and the degree of attentional investment resulting from cognitive control modulate the AB and explain individual differences in the AB. In a series of four studies feedback-related N2 amplitude, (reflecting individual differences in the strength of cognitive control), and event-related and resting alpha frequency oscillatory activity (reflecting degree of attentional investment), are used to explain both intra- and inter-individual variability in performance on the AB task. Results supported the hypothesis that stronger cognitive control and greater attentional investment are associated with larger AB magnitudes. Attentional investment, as measured by alpha frequency oscillations, and cognitive control, as measured by the feedback-related N2, did not relate to each other as hypothesized. It is proposed that instead of a measure of attentional investment alone, alpha frequency oscillatory activity actually reflects control over information processing over time, in other words the timing of attention. With this conceptualization, various aspects of cognitive control, either related to the management of goals (feedback-related N2) or the management of attention over time to meet goals, explain variability in the AB.