In a series of experiments, the nature of perceptual awareness during the attentional blink was investigated. Previous work has considered the attentional blink as a discrete, all-or-none phenomenon, indicative of general access to conscious awareness. Using continuous report measures in combination with mixture modeling, the outcomes showed that perceptual awareness during the attentional blink can be a gradual phenomenon. Awareness was not exclusively discrete, but also exhibited a gradual characteristic whenever the spatial extent of attention induced by the first target spanned more than a single location. Under these circumstances, mental representations of blinked targets were impoverished, but did approach the actual identities of the targets. Conversely, when the focus of attention covered only a single location, there was no evidence for any partial knowledge of blinked targets. These two different faces of awareness during the attentional blink challenge current theories of both awareness and temporal attention, which cannot explain the existence of gradual awareness of targets during the attentional blink. To account for the current outcomes, an adaptive gating model is proposed that casts awareness on a continuum between gradual and discrete, rather than as being of either single kind.
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