Sustained Attention in Auditory and Visual Monitoring Tasks: Evaluation of the Administration of a Rest Break or Exogenous Vibrotactile Signals

Hum Factors. 2015 Dec;57(8):1403-16. doi: 10.1177/0018720815598433. Epub 2015 Aug 14.


Objective: Performance and mental workload were observed for the administration of a rest break or exogenous vibrotactile signals in auditory and visual monitoring tasks.

Background: Sustained attention is mentally demanding. Techniques are required to improve observer performance in vigilance tasks.

Method: Participants (N = 150) monitored an auditory or a visual display for changes in signal duration in a 40-min watch. During the watch, participants were administered a rest break or exogenous vibrotactile signals.

Results: Detection accuracy was significantly greater in the auditory than in the visual modality. A short rest break restored detection accuracy in both sensory modalities following deterioration in performance. Participants experienced significantly lower mental workload when monitoring auditory than visual signals, and a rest break significantly reduced mental workload in both sensory modalities. Exogenous vibrotactile signals had no beneficial effects on performance, or mental workload.

Conclusion: A rest break can restore performance in auditory and visual vigilance tasks. Although sensory differences in vigilance tasks have been studied, this study is the initial effort to investigate the effects of a rest break countermeasure in both auditory and visual vigilance tasks, and it is also the initial effort to explore the effects of the intervention of a rest break on the perceived mental workload of auditory and visual vigilance tasks. Further research is warranted to determine exact characteristics of effective exogenous vibrotactile signals in vigilance tasks.

Application: Potential applications of this research include procedures for decreasing the temporal decline in observer performance and the high mental workload imposed by vigilance tasks.

Keywords: performance efficiency; vigilance; workload.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Vibration / therapeutic use*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Workload
  • Young Adult