The effects of total sleep deprivation on the generation of random sequences of key-presses, numbers and nouns

Authors: Heuer, Herbert; Kohlisch, Olaf; Klein, Wolfhard

Source: The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A, 1 February 2005, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 275-307(33)


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According to a recent hypothesis, executive functions should be particularly vulnerable to the effects of total sleep deprivation. Random generation is a task that taps executive functions. In three experiments we examined the effects of total sleep deprivation on random generation of keypresses, numbers, and nouns, in particular on the suppression of prepotent responses and the selection of next responses by way of applying a local-representativeness heuristic. With random key-presses suppression of prepotent responses did not suffer from lack of sleep, but it became poorer at a sufficiently high pacing rate. In contrast, suppression of prepotent responses suffered when numbers and nouns were generated. According to these findings different types of random generation tasks involve different types of inhibitory process. With only four response alternatives, but not with larger response sets, application of the local-representativeness heuristic was impaired after a night without sleep. In terms of a simple formal model, serial-order representations of the preceding responses are used in selecting the next response only for the small response set, and not for larger response sets. Thus, serial-order representations are likely to suffer from loss of sleep. These findings strongly suggest that random generation involves multiple processes and that total sleep deprivation does not impair all sorts of executive functions, but only some.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institut für Arbeitsphysiologie an der Universität Dortmund Dortmund Germany

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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