Frequent lapses of responsiveness during an extended visuomotor tracking task in non-sleep-deprived subjects
We investigated the occurrence of lapses of responsiveness (lapses) in 15 non-sleep-deprived subjects performing a 1D continuous tracking task during normal working hours. Tracking behaviour, facial video, and electroencephalogram (EEG) were recorded simultaneously during two 1-h sessions. Rate and duration were estimated for lapses identified by a tracking flat spot and/or video sleep. Fourteen of the 15 subjects had one or more lapses, with an overall rate of 39.3 ± 12.9 lapses per hour (mean ± SE) and a lapse duration of 3.4 ± 0.5 s. We also found that subjects’ performance improved towards the end of the 1-h long session, even though no external temporal cues were available. Spectral power was found to be higher during lapses in the delta, theta, and alpha bands, and lower in the beta, gamma, and higher bands, but correlations between changes in EEG power and lapses were low. In conclusion, lapses are a frequent phenomenon in normal subjects – even when not sleep-deprived – engaged in an extended monotonous continuous visuomotor task. This is of particular importance to the transport sector in which there is a need to maintain sustained attention for extended periods of time and in which lapses can lead to multiple-fatality accidents.