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J Exp Psychol Appl. 2010 Jun;16(2):187-203. doi: 10.1037/a0019572.

Task engagement, cerebral blood flow velocity, and diagnostic monitoring for sustained attention.

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Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0376, USA.


Loss of vigilance may lead to impaired performance in various applied settings including military operations, transportation, and industrial inspection. Individuals differ considerably in sustained attention, but individual differences in vigilance have proven to be hard to predict. The dependence of vigilance on workload factors is consistent with a resource model of sustained attention. Thus, measures of attentional resource availability may predict the operator's subsequent vigilance performance. In this study, we investigated whether a diagnostic battery of measures of response to a cognitive challenge would predict subsequent sustained attention. Measures that may relate to the mobilization of resources in response to task demands include subjective task engagement and coping, and a novel psychophysiological index, cerebral bloodflow velocity (CBFV). A two-phase design was used. First, participants were exposed to a challenging battery of short tasks that elevated CBFV. Second, participants performed a 36-min vigilance task. Two subgroups of participants performed either a sensory vigilance (N = 187) or a cognitive vigilance (N = 107) task. Measures of task engagement, coping, and CBFV response to the short task battery were compared as predictors of subsequent vigilance. Both subjective and CBFV indices of energization predicted sensory and cognitive vigilance, consistent with resource theory. Structural equation modeling was used to develop a latent factor model of influences on sustained attention. It is concluded that measures of resources, conceptualized as multiple energization processes, are potentially useful for diagnostic monitoring in applied settings. Use of a diagnostic task battery in military and transportation settings is discussed, along with some potential limitations on validity of the diagnostic test.

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