Anticipation of Monetary Reward Can Attenuate the Vigilance Decrement

Abstract

Motivation and reward can have differential effects on separate aspects of sustained attention. We previously demonstrated that continuous reward/punishment throughout a sustained attention task improves overall performance, but not vigilance decrements. One interpretation of these findings is that vigilance decrements are due to resource depletion, which is not overcome by increasing overall motivation. However, an alternative explanation is that as one performs a continuously rewarded task there are less potential gains/losses as the task progresses, which could decrease motivation over time, producing a vigilance decrement. This would predict that keeping future gains/losses consistent throughout the task would reduce the vigilance decrement. In the current study, we examined this possibility by comparing two versions (continuous-small loss vs. anticipate-large loss) of a 10-minute gradual onset continuous performance task (gradCPT), a challenging go/no-go sustained attention task. Participants began each task with the potential to keep $18. In the continuous-small-loss version, small monetary losses were accrued continuously throughout the task for each error. However, in the anticipate-large-loss version, participants lost all $18 if they erroneously responded to one target that always appeared toward the end of the vigil. Typical vigilance decrements were observed in the continuous-small-loss condition. In the anticipate-large-loss condition, vigilance decrements were reduced, particularly when the anticipate-large loss condition was completed second. This suggests that the looming possibility of a large loss can attenuate the vigilance decrement and that this attenuation may occur most consistently after sufficient task experience. We discuss these results in the context of current theories of sustained attention.

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