When subjects identified a target among distractors in a
rapid serial visual presentation task, the detection of
a subsequent target is impaired (attentional blink). By
measuring event-related potentials (ERPs) we investigated
if the processing of an unidentified prime word elicits
the N400 semantic priming effect.
Subjects (N = 12) had to identify three target
words among distractors in a rapid serial visual presentation
task. We varied the association strength between a prime
(second target) and a probe (third target). The detection
of the prime was impaired. Missed primes did not elicit
a P300, indicating that they were not explicitly recognized.
Despite this difference between recognized and missed primes,
the N400 effect was present in both cases. This result
suggests that automatic spread of activation (ASA) can
be evoked by missed primes within the attentional blink.
It furthermore demonstrates that ASA is sufficient to evoke
the N400 effect.