The Abbreviated Vigilance Task and Its Attentional Contributors

Curtis M. Craig, Martina I. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: To measure contributing attentional processes, particularly that of executive attention, to two iterations of the abbreviated vigilance task. Background: Joel Warm was at the forefront of vigilance research for decades, and resource theory is currently the dominant explanation for the vigilance decrement. The underlying mechanisms contributing to both overall performance and the decrement are only partly understood. Method: Seventy-eight participants answered questionnaires about their attentional skills and stress state, performed the Attention Network Test and two blocks of the 12-min abbreviated vigilance task, with a brief break between the two vigils during which they viewed images intended to affect performance. Changes in oxygenated hemoglobin were measured with functional near-infrared imaging. Results: Expected patterns were observed for both iterations of the abbreviated vigilance task, with performance declining after the first 2 min. Manipulations intended to evaluate whether executive processes contributed to vigilance performance failed to observe an effect. Other factors, particularly orienting and alerting attentional networks, task engagement, and subclinical ADHD symptomology were associated with performance. Significant factors for the first and second vigilance blocks were different. Conclusion: We suggest that (a) cognitive control is not a predominant factor, at least for the abbreviated vigilance task, and (b) attentional mechanisms and stress states affecting performance on the abbreviated vigilance task change over time. Application: Potential applications of this research include the use of breaks for sustained attention tasks involving high sensory load, and implications for the use of the abbreviated vigilance task as a proxy for general vigilance processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-439
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • attentional processes
  • effort
  • neuroergonomics
  • stress
  • vigilance


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