Intraindividual variability in vigilance performance: does degrading visual stimuli mimic age-related "neural noise"?

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2006 Jul;28(5):655-75. doi: 10.1080/13803390590954245.


Intraindividual performance variability, or inconsistency, has been shown to predict neurological status, physiological functioning, and age differences and declines in cognition. However, potential moderating factors of inconsistency are not well understood. The present investigation examined whether inconsistency in vigilance response latencies varied as a function of time-on-task and task demands by degrading visual stimuli in three separate conditions (10%, 20%, and 30%). Participants were 24 younger women aged 21 to 30 years (M = 24.04, SD = 2.51) and 23 older women aged 61 to 83 years (M = 68.70, SD = 6.38). A measure of within-person inconsistency, the intraindividual standard deviation (ISD), was computed for each individual across reaction time (RT) trials (3 blocks of 45 event trials) for each condition of the vigilance task. Greater inconsistency was observed with increasing stimulus degradation and age, even after controlling for group differences in mean RTs and physical condition. Further, older adults were more inconsistent than younger adults for similar degradation conditions, with ISD scores for younger adults in the 30% condition approximating estimates observed for older adults in the 10% condition. Finally, a measure of perceptual sensitivity shared increasing negative associations with ISDs, with this association further modulated as a function of age but to a lesser degree by degradation condition. Results support current hypotheses suggesting that inconsistency serves as a marker of neurological integrity and are discussed in terms of potential underlying mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Middle Aged
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Time Factors
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology