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Brief And Rare Mental 'Breaks' Keep You Focused: Deactivation And Reactivation Of Task Goals Preempt Vigilance Decrements

Date: June 5 2020

Summary: How brief breaks can help you keep focused during long tasks

Keywords: ##bibliography #breaks #vigilance #tasks #decrement #archive


A. Ariga and A. Lleras, "Brief and rare mental ‘breaks’ keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements," Cognition, vol. 118, no. 3, pp. 439–443, Mar. 2011, doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.007.

Table of Contents

    1. Study Methods
    2. Concepts
  1. How To Cite
  2. References
  3. Discussion:

Study Methods

84 students (37 males, 47 female) involved.


Mindlessness theory: vigilance decrement is due to gross inattention or mindlessness. During monotonous vigilance tasks, supervisory attentional systems lose their effectiveness and observers perform the task in a thoughtless manner. Essentially, zoning during a task such as driving a regular path to work or making a bed. [1], [2]

Vigilance tasks often show a negative sloping curve as a function of time. [3]

Vigilance decrement does not concern depletion of attention resources. It is about a loss of control over our thoughts.

Heightened levels of vigilance can be maintained over prolonged periods of time with the use of infrequent, controlled breaks from a particular vigilance task. [4]

Ariga proposes that with respect to cognitive control, vigilance decrement may have difficulties due to goal habituation. Ariga argues thatgoals which draw on cognitive faculties should show effects similar to habituation.

Arriga argues that vigilance decrements ought be observed for any task that is performed continuously if goal habituation happens. It should not depend necessarily on the extent to which the task can be routinized

Task-Unrelated-Thoughts: when we subconsciously disengage from a task and start thinking about other related subjects

How Ariga believes vigilance decrement should be viewed. Cognitive control is also known as executive control. [5], [6] Ariga's posits vigilance decrement is a failure of cognitive control. This is in contrast to the current thought that vigilance decrement is the inability to recover resources needed for retention as a function of time.

The defintion of habituation

Habituation effect: the gradual diminishing of representation to sustained stimulation. Can occur even when being actively involved in tasks that require cognitive effort [7], [8] and in tasks regarding meaning [9] This links back to how Ariga views vigilance decrement.

How To Cite

Zelko, Jacob. Brief And Rare Mental 'Breaks' Keep You Focused: Deactivation And Reactivation Of Task Goals Preempt Vigilance Decrements. June 5 2020.


[1] T. Manly, I. H. Robertson, M. Galloway, and K. Hawkins, “The absent mind:: Further investigations of sustained attention to response,” Neuropsychologia, vol. 37, no. 6, pp. 661–670, 1999.

[2] I. H. Robertson, T. Manly, J. Andrade, B. T. Baddeley, and J. Yiend, “Oops!’: Performance correlates of everyday attentional failures in traumatic brain injured and normal subjects,” Neuropsychologia, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 747–758, 1997.

[3] D. R. Davies and R. Parasuraman, The psychology of vigilance. Academic Pr, 1982.

[4] P. A. Bourke and J. Duncan, “Effect of template complexity on visual search and dual-task performance,” Psychol. Sci., vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 208–213, 2005.

[5] E. K. Miller and J. D. Cohen, “An integrative theory of prefrontal cortex function,” Annu. Rev. Neurosci., vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 167–202, 2001.

[6] M. I. Posner, C. R. Snyder, and R. Solso, “Attention and cognitive control,” Cogn. Psychol. Key Read., vol. 205, 2004.

[7] Y. S. Bonneh, A. Cooperman, and D. Sagi, “Motion-induced blindness in normal observers,” Nature, vol. 411, no. 6839, pp. 798–801, 2001.

[8] D. Troxler, “On the disappearance of given objects from our visual field,” Ophthalmol. Bibl., vol. 2, pp. 1–53, 1804.

[9] W. E. Lambert and L. A. Jakobovits, “Verbal satiation and changes in the intensity of meaning.” J. Exp. Psychol., vol. 60, no. 6, p. 376, 1960.


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