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Cognition. 2011 Mar;118(3):439-43. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.007. Epub 2011 Jan 5.

Brief and rare mental "breaks" keep you focused: deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements.

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  • 1University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States.


We newly propose that the vigilance decrement occurs because the cognitive control system fails to maintain active the goal of the vigilance task over prolonged periods of time (goal habituation). Further, we hypothesized that momentarily deactivating this goal (via a switch in tasks) would prevent the activation level of the vigilance goal from ever habituating. We asked observers to perform a visual vigilance task while maintaining digits in-memory. When observers retrieved the digits at the end of the vigilance task, their vigilance performance steeply declined over time. However, when observers were asked to sporadically recollect the digits during the vigilance task, the vigilance decrement was averted. Our results present a direct challenge to the pervasive view that vigilance decrements are due to a depletion of attentional resources and provide a tractable mechanism to prevent this insidious phenomenon in everyday life.

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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