Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
This article explores the time course of the functional interplay between detection and encoding stages of information processing in the brain and the role they play in conscious visual perception. We employed a multitarget rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) approach and examined the electrophysiological P3 component elicited by a target terminating an RSVP sequence. Target-locked P3 activity was detected both at frontal and parietal recording sites and an independent component analysis confirmed the presence of two distinct P3 components. The posterior P3b varied with intertarget lag, with diminished amplitude and postponed latency at short relative to long lags—an electroencephalographic signature of the attentional blink (AB). Under analogous conditions, the anterior P3a was also reduced in amplitude but did not vary in latency. Collectively, the results provide an electrophysiological record of the interaction between frontal and posterior components linked to detection (P3a) and encoding (P3b) of visual information. Our findings suggest that, although the AB delays target encoding into working memory, it does not slow down detection of a target but instead reduces the efficacy of this process. A functional characterization of P3a in attentive tasks is discussed with reference to current models of the AB phenomenon.