RATIONALE: Recent theories posit an important role for the noradrenergic system in attentional selection in the temporal domain. In contrast, the spatially diffuse topographical projections of the noradrenergic system are inconsistent with a direct role in spatial selection.
OBJECTIVES: To test the hypotheses that pharmacological attenuation of central noradrenergic activity should (1) impair performance on the attentional blink task, a task requiring the selection of targets in a rapid serial visual stream of stimuli; and (2) leave intact the efficiency of the search for a target in a two-dimensional visuospatial stimulus array.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: Thirty-two healthy adult human subjects performed an attentional blink task and a visual search task in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-subject study investigating the effects of the alpha2 adrenoceptor agonist clonidine (150 microg, oral dose).
RESULTS: No differential effects of clonidine vs placebo were found on the attentional blink performance. Clonidine slowed overall reaction times in the visual search task but did not impair the efficiency of the visual search.
CONCLUSIONS: The attentional blink results are inconsistent with recent theories about the role of the noradrenergic system in temporal filtering and in mediating the attentional blink. This discrepancy between theory and data is discussed in detail. The visual search results, in combination with previous findings, suggest that the noradrenergic system is not directly involved in spatial attention processes but instead can modulate these processes in an indirect fashion.