Psychology, Department of


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Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics


PMCID: PMC7984507


The attentional blink (AB) is often considered a top-down phenomenon because it is triggered by matching an initial target (T1) in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream to a search template. However, the AB is modulated when targets are emotional, and is evoked when a task-irrelevant, emotional critical distractor (CDI) replaces T1. Neither manipulation fully captures the interplay between bottom-up and top-down attention in the AB: Valenced targets intrinsically conflate top-down and bottom-up attention. The CDI approach cannotmanipulate second target (T2) valence, which is critical because valenced T2s can “break through” the AB (in the target-manipulation approach). The present research resolves this methodological challenge by indirectly measuring whether a purely bottom-up CDI can modulate report of a subsequent T2. This novel approach adds a valenced CDI to the “classic,” two-target AB. Participants viewed RSVP streams containing a T1–CDI pair preceding a variable lag to T2. If the CDI’s valence is sufficient to survive the AB, it should modulate T2 performance, indirectly signaling bottom-up capture by an emotional stimulus. Contrary to this prediction, CDI valence only affected the AB when CDIs were also extremely visually conspicuous. Thus, emotional valence alone is insufficient to modulate the AB.

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