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Keywords:

  • human visual attention;
  • MEG;
  • P300;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • temporo-parieto-frontal cortex

Abstract

If humans monitor streams of rapidly presented (≈ 100-ms intervals) visual stimuli, which are typically specific single letters of the alphabet, for two targets (T1 and T2), they often miss T2 if it follows T1 within an interval of 200–500 ms. If T2 follows T1 directly (within 100 ms; described as occurring at ‘Lag 1’), however, performance is often excellent: the so-called ‘Lag-1 sparing’ phenomenon. Lag-1 sparing might result from the integration of the two targets into the same ‘event representation’, which fits with the observation that sparing is often accompanied by a loss of T1–T2 order information. Alternatively, this might point to competition between the two targets (implying a trade-off between performance on T1 and T2) and Lag-1 sparing might solely emerge from conditional data analysis (i.e. T2 performance given T1 correct). We investigated the neural correlates of Lag-1 sparing by carrying out magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings during an attentional blink (AB) task, by presenting two targets with a temporal lag of either 1 or 2 and, in the case of Lag 2, with a nontarget or a blank intervening between T1 and T2. In contrast to Lag 2, where two distinct neural responses were observed, at Lag 1 the two targets produced one common neural response in the left temporo-parieto-frontal (TPF) area but not in the right TPF or prefrontal areas. We discuss the implications of this result with respect to competition and integration hypotheses, and with respect to the different functional roles of the cortical areas considered. We suggest that more than one target can be identified in parallel in left TPF, at least in the absence of intervening nontarget information (i.e. masks), yet identified targets are processed and consolidated as two separate events by other cortical areas (right TPF and PFC, respectively).