The role of temporal context and expectancy in resource allocation to and perception of rapid serial events

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★ We study resource allocation to and processing of rapid serial events. ★ P3 and performance are studied as a function of temporal context and expectancy. ★ Temporal context affects resource allocation and processing of rapid serial events. ★ An influencing variable in addition to temporal context is likely. ★ Expectancy is unlikely to be an influencing variable.

The perception of target events presented in a rapid stream of non-targets is impaired for early target positions, but then gradually improves, a phenomenon known as attentional awakening. This phenomenon has been associated with better resource allocation. It is unclear though whether improved resource allocation and attentional awakening are a consequence of the temporal context, that is, the position of the target event in the stimulus stream, or are due to a simple expectancy or foreperiod effect. Expectancy is an alternative explanation of attentional awakening because it depends on the a posteriori probabilities, which will increase with target position when all target positions are equally likely. To differentiate between the expectancy and the temporal context account the a priori (objective) probability of target position was defined such that the a posteriori probability would be high for early and late, and low for intermediate target positions. EEG was collected and the P3 ERP evoked by target events was derived as an indicator of resource allocation. A robust attentional awakening effect was observed. The relationships between measures of performance and P3 amplitude, and respectively target position, a priori, and a posteriori probability were analyzed. Results showed that in contrast to target position, a posteriori probability had little impact on performance and did not moderate the association between P3 amplitude and performance. Results also indicated that in spite of the evident role of target position on resource allocation and the perception of target events in rapid stimulus streams, target position is likely not the only variable these are affected by. Nevertheless, the findings of the present study suggest that whereas the temporal context of a rapid serial event is a key player for resource allocation to and perception of the event, expectancy seems of very little consequence.

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