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The role of memory representation in the vigilance decrement

By Daniel M. Caggiano and Raja Parasuraman


Working memory load is critically important for the overall level of performance on vigilance tasks. However, its role in a key aspect of vigilance—sensitivity decrement over time—is unclear. We used a dual-task procedure in which either a spatial or a nonspatial working memory task was performed simultaneously with a spatial vigilance task for 20 min. Sensitivity in the vigilance task declined over time when the concurrent task involved spatial working memory. In contrast, there was no sensitivity decrement with a nonspatial working memory task. The results provide the first evidence of a specific role for working memory representation in vigilance decrement. The findings are also consistent with a multiple resource theory in which separate resources for memory representation and cognitive control operations are differentially susceptible to depletion over time, depending on the demands of the task at hand. Most people find it difficult to sustain attention on one source of information for an extended period of time. If one needs to monitor that source to detect a rare, unpredictable target among frequent nontargets—for example, an airport security screener checking baggage for a weapon—the accurac

Year: 2004
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