Attentional modulation of early ERP components in response to faces: Evidence from the attentional blink paradigm

Alexandra Darque, Marzia Del Zotto, Asaid Khateb, Alan J. Pegna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The attentional blink (AB) is a transient attentional deficit that occurs when two stimuli that must both be detected are presented within an interval of less than 500 ms. Event-related potential (ERP) investigations have suggested that the AB affects a specific component, the P3, which is suppressed when targets are blinked. In view of the link between the P3 and working memory, it has been suggested that the AB might be due to the inability of the blinked target to access working memory. Interestingly, it seems that faces, due to their saliency, might escape the AB effect when rosscategory detection is required (i.e., when the targets are composed of faces versus other categories of stimuli). In the present study we investigated this phenomenon in an eventrelated potential (ERP) study using upright and inverted faces as targets. In a first task, the participants were asked to identify two successive targets, the first composed of geometric shapes and the second of upright or inverted faces. Asecond control task, identical to the first was also performed, in which only the second targets had to be identified in order to compare ERPs. ERPs and scalp topographies of physically identical sequences of events, differing only by the attentional involvement, were thus compared. Behavioural results showed that faces indeed escape the AB while inverted faces do not. However, the electrophysiological findings showed that when attention was engaged in a previous stimulus (at the shortest lag times), both upright and inverted faces showed a decreased amplitude in the 150-260 ms time period, in addition to a lower P3. At longer lags, when theAB was no longer observed, no ERP differences were found. Our data demonstrate that, although faces escape the attentional blink, previous attentional involvement occurs much earlier than described for other categories of stimuli. This suggests that faces are subjected to an early selection which might allow rapid re-allocation of attention to the stimulus if it is deemed meaningful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-181
Number of pages15
JournalBrain Topography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation grant no. 320030-125196. The Cartool software ( used for analysis in this study was programmed by Denis Brunet from the Functional Brain Mapping Laboratory, Geneva, Switzerland, and is supported by the Center for Biomedical Imaging of Geneva and Lausanne. The authors are indebted to Jane Raymond for constructive comments on a previous version of this paper.


  • Attention
  • Awareness
  • ERP
  • RSVP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Anatomy


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