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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01504

Examining the role of task requirements in the magnitude of the vigilance decrement

 Daniel Gartenberg1,  Glenn Gunzelmann2*, Shiva Hassanzadeh-Behbahani3 and  J. G. Trafton4
  • 1Pennsylvania State University, United States
  • 2Cognitive Models and Agents Branch, Air Force Research Laboratory, United States
  • 3George Mason University, United States
  • 4United States Naval Research Laboratory, United States

The vigilance decrement in sustained attention tasks is a prevalent example of cognitive fatigue in the literature. A critical challenge for current theories is to account for differences in the magnitude of the vigilance decrement across tasks that involve memory (Successive Tasks) and those that do not (Simultaneous Tasks). The empirical results described in this paper examine this issue by comparing performance, including eye movement data, between successive and simultaneous tasks that require multiple fixations to encode the stimulus for each trial. The findings show that differences in the magnitude of the vigilance decrement between successive and simultaneous tasks were observed only when a response deadline was imposed in the analysis of reaction times. This suggests that memory requirements did not exacerbate the deleterious impacts of time on task on the ability to accurately identify the critical stimuli. At the same time, eye tracking data collected during the study provided evidence for disruptions in cognitive processing that manifested as increased delays between fixations on stimulus elements and between encoding the second stimulus element and responding. These delays were particularly pronounced in later stages of encoding and responding. The similarity of the findings for both tasks suggests that the vigilance decrement may arise from common mechanisms in both cases. Differences in the magnitude of the decrement arise as a function of how degraded cognitive processing interacts with differences in the information processing requirements and other task characteristics. The findings are consistent with recent accounts of the vigilance decrement, which integrate features of prior theoretical perspectives.

Keywords: vigilance, Simultaneous versus Successive, cognitive fatigue, Vigilance decrement, Attention, cognitive control

Received: 31 Jan 2018; Accepted: 30 Jul 2018.

Edited by:

Monicque Lorist, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Juan Lupiáñez, Universidad de Granada, Spain
James Danckert, University of Waterloo, Canada  

Copyright: © 2018 Gartenberg, Gunzelmann, Hassanzadeh-Behbahani and Trafton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Glenn Gunzelmann, Air Force Research Laboratory, Cognitive Models and Agents Branch, Dayton, 45433, OH, United States,