What processes are disrupted during the attentional blink? An integrative review of event-related potential research

Alon Zivony*, Dominique Lamy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Reporting the second of two targets is impaired when these appear in close succession, a phenomenon known as the attentional blink (AB). Despite decades of research, what factors limit our ability to process multiple sequentially presented events remains unclear. Specifically, two central issues remain open: does failure to report the second target (T2) reflect a structural limitation in working memory (WM) encoding or a disruption to attentional processes? And is perceptual processing of the stimulus that we fail to report impaired, or only processes that occur after this stimulus is identified? We address these questions by reviewing event-related potential (ERP) studies of the AB, after providing a brief overview of the theoretical landscape relevant to these debates and clarifying key concepts essential for interpreting ERP studies. We show that failure to report the second target is most often associated with disrupted attentional engagement (associated with a smaller and delayed N2pc component). This disruption occurs after early processing of T2 (associated with an intact P1 component), weakens its semantic processing (typically associated with a smaller N400 component), and prevents its encoding into WM (associated with absent P3b). However, failure to encode T2 in WM can occur despite intact attentional engagement and semantic processing. We conclude that the AB phenomenon, which reflects our limited ability to process sequential events, emerges from the disruption of both attentional engagement and WM encoding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-414
Number of pages21
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Attentional blink
  • Attentional engagement
  • N2pc
  • N400
  • P1
  • P3
  • Semantic processing
  • Working memory


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