Validity and Sensitivity of a Brief Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT-B) to Total and Partial Sleep Deprivation

Acta Astronaut. 2011 Dec 1;69(11-12):949-959. doi: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.07.015.


The Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) objectively assesses fatigue-related changes in alertness associated with sleep loss, extended wakefulness, circadian misalignment, and time on task. The standard 10-min PVT is often considered impractical in applied contexts. To address this limitation, we developed a modified brief 3-min version of the PVT (PVT-B). The PVT-B was validated in controlled laboratory studies with 74 healthy subjects (34 female, aged 22-45 years) that participated either in a total sleep deprivation (TSD) study involving 33 hours awake (N=31 subjects) or in a partial sleep deprivation (PSD) protocol involving 5 consecutive nights of 4 hours time in bed (N=43 subjects). PVT and PVT-B were performed regularly during wakefulness. Effect sizes of 5 key PVT outcomes were larger for TSD than PSD and larger for PVT than for PVT-B for all outcomes. Effect size was largest for response speed (reciprocal response time) for both the PVT-B and the PVT in both TSD and PSD. According to Cohen's criteria, effect sizes for the PVT-B were still large (TSD) or medium to large (PSD, except for fastest 10% RT). Compared to the 70% decrease in test duration the 22.7% (range 6.9%-67.8%) average decrease in effect size was deemed an acceptable trade-off between duration and sensitivity. Overall, PVT-B performance had faster response times, more false starts and fewer lapses than PVT performance (all p<0.01). After reducing the lapse threshold from 500 ms to 355 ms for PVT-B, mixed model ANOVAs indicated no differential sensitivity to sleep loss between PVT-B and PVT for all outcome variables (all P>0.15) but the fastest 10% response times during PSD (P<0.001), and effect sizes increased from 1.38 to 1.49 (TSD) and 0.65 to 0.76 (PSD), respectively. In conclusion, PVT-B tracked standard 10-min PVT performance throughout both TSD and PSD, and yielded medium to large effect sizes. PVT-B may be a useful tool for assessing behavioral alertness in settings where the duration of the 10-min PVT is considered impractical, although further validation in applied settings is needed.