Research Article: Erroneous selection of a non-target item improves subsequent target identification in rapid serial visual presentations

Date Published: February 28, 2010

Publisher: University of Finance and Management in Warsaw

Author(s): Yuki Yamada, Atsunori Ariga, Kayo Miura, Takahiro Kawabe.


The second of two targets (T2) embedded in a rapid serial visual presentation
(RSVSVP) is often missed even though the first (T1) is correctly reported
(attentional blink). The rate of correct T2 identification is quite high,
however, when T2 comes immediately after T1 (lag-1 sparing). This study
investigated whether and how non-target items induce lag-1 sparing. One T1 and
two T2s comprising letters were inserted in distractors comprising symbols in
each of two synchronised RSVSVPs. A digit (dummy) was presented with T1 in
another stream. Lag-1 sparing occurred even at the location where the dummy was
present (Experiment 1). This distractor-induced sparing effect was also obtained
even when a Japanese katakana character (Experiment 2) was used as the dummy.
The sparing effect was, however, severely weakened when symbols (Experiment 3)
and Hebrew letters (Experiment 4) served as the dummy. Our findings suggest a
tentative hypothesis that attentional set for item nameability is
meta-categorically created and adopted to the dummy only when the dummy is

Partial Text

Our cognitive processing has severe temporal limitations. For example,
attentional blink (AB; Raymond,
Shapiro, & Arnell, 1992) refers to the phenomenon that occurs
when two targets are sequentially embedded in a rapid serial visual presentation
(RSVP) of distractors. The identification rate of the subsequent target (T2) is
impaired, whereas that of the preceding target (T1) is high. More specifically, T2
performance is substantially impaired when the temporal lag between T1 and T2 is
short (or within 500 ms), but recovers for longer lags (e.g., Chun & Potter, 1995; Shapiro, Arnell, & Raymond, 1997; Visser, Zuvic, Bischof, & Di Lollo, 1999).

This experiment aimed at testing whether the adoption of an alphanumeric attentional
setting produced lag-1 sparing as in the first experiment. In Experiment 2, a new
category, Japanese katakana, was used as the category of the dummy T1. This category
was quite familiar to the Japanese observers employed in this experiment and was not
included in the alphanumeric category. If the results of Experiment 1 were a product
of alphanumeric attentional setting, lag-1 sparing should not occur even when the
dummy T1 of Japanese katakana was presented.

This experiment examined whether a dummy item belonging to a category which was
simply different from a distractor category led to lag-1 sparing. In Experiment 3,
the categories of dummy items and distractors used in Experiment 1 were reversed
(i.e., symbols and digits served as dummies and distractors, respectively). Despite
the categorical reversal, the dummy and target categories were still clearly
separated although the difference between the dummy and distractor categories
remained unchanged from that in Experiment 1. Lag-1 sparing would occur when a dummy
symbol item was presented if mere categorical difference between the dummy and
distractor was the decisive factor.

Experiment 4 was performed to determine whether lag-1 sparing with the dummy items
depended on item nameability. We used Hebrew alphabet letters as dummy categories,
Roman alphabet letters and symbols as target categories, and digits as the
distractor category. Data were collected from Japanese students who knew the shape
of Hebrew alphabet letters, but could not name an individual letter. If item
nameability underlies dummy-driven lag-1 sparing, no lag-1 sparing with the dummy
item from Hebrew letters would be observed because Japanese participants could not
name them.

The present study found that a non-target item in neither a target nor distractor
category can elicit lag-1 sparing. Experiment 1 showed that a dummy T1 (digits) not
belonging to a target category (Roman alphabet) produced lag-1 sparing. Moreover, in
Experiment 2, it was demonstrated that a dummy item from Japanese katakana caused
lag-1 sparing for the following T2 of Roman alphabet letters, suggesting that
dummy-based lag-1 sparing occurs beyond an alphanumeric attentional setting.
Additionally, Experiment 3 showed that a dummy item from symbols did not cause
robust lag-1 sparing, suggesting that the mere presence of the dummy item at the
temporal location of T1 does not explain dummy-based lag-1 sparing. Finally, the
results of Experiment 4 suggest that nameability of the dummy item was related to
dummy-driven lag-1 sparing. Categories such as the Roman alphabet, Japanese katakana
letters, and digits were nameable whereas symbols and the Hebrew alphabet were not
nameable by observers in the present experiments. Our findings suggest that
attentional set for item nameability is meta-categorically created and adopted to
the dummy T1 only when the dummy T1 is nameable. The idea of a meta-categorical
attentional set for nameability is consistent with almost all the results in this