Individual Differences in Self-control and Cognitive Resource Depletion During Sustained Attention

Amanda E. Harwood

Advisor: Tyler H. Shaw, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Patrick McKnight, William Helton

Research Hall, #92
November 18, 2019, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


Sustained attention has many real-world applications such as air traffic control and driving. Researchers have typically studied sustained attention using basic laboratory tasks. The theoretical mechanisms of these tasks have been under question for years, with a particular focus on individual differences that predict a person's performance on these tasks. One potential individual difference is self-control, which has been theorized to be related to sustained attention but, to date, has not been sufficiently tested. In 3 studies, I investigated the effect of trait self-control and self-control depletion on two types of sustained attention tasks. Study 1 examined whether trait and state self-control relates to performance on a traditionally formatted vigilance task, and results indicated that there was no relation. Study 2 examined whether trait and state self control related to performance on sustained attention to response task (SART), and results revealed a relation between trait self control and performance on the SART. In study 3, I sought to determine if the traditional vigilance task and the SART rely on a common mental resource. The results of study 3 suggest that that is the case, but that self-control is not a unifying theoretical mechanism. Taken together, the results of these studies showed that the effects of self-control on sustained attention task performance are inconsistent.