Search asymmetry, sustained attention, and response inhibition

Hugh Stevenson, Paul N Russell, William S Helton
Brain and Cognition 2011, 77 (2): 215-22
In the present experiment, we used search asymmetry to test whether the sustained attention to response task is a better measure of response inhibition or sustained attention. Participants performed feature present and feature absent target detection tasks using either a sustained attention to response task (SART; high Go low No-Go) or a traditionally formatted task (TFT; high No-Go low Go) response format. In addition to performance, we employed functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure lateral cerebral oxygenation levels and self-reports of Tense Arousal, Energetic Arousal, task related and unrelated thoughts occurring during the tasks. Detections were lower and reaction times longer in the feature absent search than the feature present search regardless of response format. Detections were lower, but reaction times shorter in the SART than the TFT regardless of feature search. Greater right than left frontal hemisphere activation occurred in the SART than the TFT. In addition, the SART was more fatiguing based on self-reports than the TFT, but there were no differences in Task-Unrelated Thoughts across task conditions. Overall, the results suggest the SART places high response inhibition, not necessarily sustained attention, demands on participants.

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