Attentional Changes During Implicit Learning: Signal Validity Protects a Target Stimulus from the Attentional Blink

31 October 2011

Participants in two experiments performed two simultaneous tasks: one, a dual-target detection task within a rapid sequence of target and distractor letters; the other, a cued reaction time task requiring participants to make a cued left/right response immediately after each letter sequence. Under these rapid visual presentation conditions, it is usually difficult to identify the second target when it is presented in close temporal proximity of the first target, a phenomenon known as the attentional blink. However, here, participants showed an advantage for detecting a target presented during the attentional blink if that target predicted which response cue would appear at the end of the trial. Participants also showed faster reaction times on trials with a predictive target. Both of these effects were independent of conscious knowledge of the target-response contingencies assessed by post-experiment questionnaires. The results suggest that implicit learning of the association between a predictive target and its outcome can automatically facilitate target recognition during the attentional blink, and therefore shed new light on the relationship between associative learning and attentional mechanisms.