Sustained Attention to Response Task: The Characteristics of Speed-accuracy Trade-off, Cue Reliability, and Thought Content on Task Performance

Jasmine Sierra Dang

Advisor: William S Helton, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Tyler Shaw, Patrick McKnight

David J. King Hall, #2074
April 21, 2020, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Sustained attention is required to perform many tasks. Researchers often use the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) as a psychological assessment of attentional failures. Some researchers advocated that the task is more likely an assessment of strategic choices or impulsivity due to its high Go/low No-Go paradigm which requires the participants to respond to stimuli as quickly and as accurately as possible. The controversy regarding the cognitive mechanisms underlying SART performance is ongoing. Three research studies were conducted to investigate different aspects of SART performance. The first study investigated the speed-accuracy trade-off (SATO) in SART performance by instructing participants to perform a series of four SARTs. The results supported the perspective of strategic choice as a significant mechanism behind SART errors. The second study focused on the effects of external cues on SART performance. Data were collected from 91 participants. Each participant performed three SART rounds which had auditory cues embedded into the task at three different reliability levels (i.e., 0%, 60%, and 100%). Results showed reduced commission errors and faster reaction time in the higher reliability level; in addition, highly reliable cues altered the SATO. The third study explored the relationship between SART errors and self-reported thought content. There was minimal within-subject correlation between self-reported attentional disengagement and SART errors. Overall, the results from three experiments support the position that researchers should understand the cognitive mechanisms behind SART performance before using SART as an assessment of sustained attention. Understanding SART performance may contribute to the development of training regimens to improve performance in real-life tasks which have a similar paradigm to SART (e.g., shoot-no-shoot task in military operation).