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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49099. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049099. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

Event-related potential evidence for two functionally dissociable sources of semantic effects in the attentional blink.

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Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.


Three target words (T1, T2, and T3) were embedded in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream of non-word distractors, and participants were required to report the targets at the end of each RSVP stream. T2 and T3 were semantically related words in half of the RSVP streams, and semantically unrelated words in the other half of the RSVP streams. Using an identical design, a recent study reported distinct reflections of the T2-T3 semantic relationship on the P2 and N400 components of event-related potentials (ERPs) time-locked to T3, suggesting an early, automatic, source of P2 semantic effects and a late, controlled, source of N400 semantic effects. Here, P2 and N400 semantic effects were examined by manipulating list-wide context. Relative to participants performing in a semantically unbiased context, participants over-exposed to filler RSVP streams always including semantically related T2/T3 words reported a dilution of T3-locked P2 semantic effects and a magnification of T3-locked N400 semantic effects. Opposite effects on P2 and N400 ERP components of list-wide semantic context are discussed in relation to recent proposals on the representational status of RSVP targets at processing stages prior to consolidation in visual short-term memory.

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