Passive visual stimulation induces fatigue under conditions of high arousal elicited by auditory tasks

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2022 Dec;151(12):3097-3113. doi: 10.1037/xge0001224. Epub 2022 Jun 13.


Theories of cognitive fatigue disagree on whether performance decrement is caused by motivational or functional alterations. Here, drawing inspiration from the habituation and visual adaptation literature, we tested the assumption that keeping neural networks active for an extensive period of time entails consequences at the subjective and objective level-the defining characteristics of fatigue-when confounds such as motivation, boredom, and level of skill are controlled. In Experiment 1, we revealed that passive visual stimulation affected the performance of a subsequent task that was carried out in the same portion of visual space. While under conditions of low cognitive load and arousal, participants improved their performance in the stimulated quadrant; the reverse was observed under high arousal conditions. This latter performance decrement correlated also with the reported subjective level of fatigue and occurred while neural responses to the saturating stimulus remained constant, as assessed through steady-state EEG. In subsequent experiments, we replicated and further characterized this performance deterioration effect, revealing its specificity to the stimulated eye and stimulus orientation. Across the three experiments, the decrease in performance was correlated with pupil-linked arousal, suggesting its mediating effect in this phenomenon. In sum, we show that repeated stimulation of neural networks under high-arousal conditions leads to their altered functional performance, a mechanism which may play a role in the development of global cognitive fatigue. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Arousal* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Pupil* / physiology