Paper in PLoS ONE
  • Harris, I. M., Little, M. J. J. (2010). Priming the semantic neighbourhood during the attentional blink. PLoS ONE, 5(9): e12645. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0012645.

    Background: When two targets are presented in close temporal proximity amongst a rapid serial visual stream of distractors, a period of disrupted attention and attenuated awareness lasting 200–500 ms follows identification of the first target (T1). This phenomenon is known as the ‘‘attentional blink’’ (AB) and is generally attributed to a failure to consolidate information in visual short-term memory due to depleted or disrupted attentional resources. Previous research has shown that items presented during the AB that fail to reach conscious awareness are still processed to relatively high levels, including the level of meaning. For example, missed word stimuli have been shown to prime later targets that are closely associated words. Although these findings have been interpreted as evidence for semantic processing during the AB, closely associated words (e.g., day-night) may also rely on specific, well-worn, lexical associative links which enhance attention to the relevant target.

    Methodology/Principal Findings: We used a measure of semantic distance to create prime-target pairs that are conceptually close, but have low word associations (e.g., wagon and van) and investigated priming from a distractor stimulus presented during the AB to a subsequent target (T2). The stimuli were words (concrete nouns) in Experiment 1 and the corresponding pictures of objects in Experiment 2. In both experiments, report of T2 was facilitated when this item was preceded by a semantically-related distractor. 

    Conclusions/Significance: This study is the first to show conclusively that conceptual information is extracted from distractor stimuli presented during a period of attenuated awareness and that this information spreads to neighbouring concepts within a semantic network. 

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