Attention failures versus misplaced diligence: Separating attention lapses from speed–accuracy trade-offs

Consciousness and Cognition 21 (1):277-291 (2012)
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In two studies of a GO–NOGO task assessing sustained attention, we examined the effects of altering speed–accuracy trade-offs through instructions and auditory alerts distributed throughout the task. Instructions emphasizing accuracy reduced errors and changed the distribution of GO trial RTs. Additionally, correlations between errors and increasing RTs produced a U-function; excessively fast and slow RTs accounted for much of the variance of errors. Contrary to previous reports, alerts increased errors and RT variability. The results suggest that standard instructions for sustained attention tasks, emphasizing speed and accuracy equally, produce errors arising from attempts to conform to the misleading requirement for speed, which become conflated with attention-lapse produced errors and auditory alerts have complex, and sometimes deleterious, effects on attention. We argue that instructions emphasizing accuracy provide a more precise assessment of attention lapses in sustained attention tasks.



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