The asymmetrical influence of increasing time-on-task on attentional disengagement

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Increasing time-on-task leads to fatigue and, as shown by previous research, differentially affects the deployment of visual attention towards the left and the right visual space. In healthy participants, an increasing rightward bias is commonly observed with increasing time-on-task. Yet, it is unclear whether specific mechanisms involved in the spatial deployment of visual attention are differentially affected by increasing time-on-task. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether prolonged time-on-task would affect a specific mechanism of visuospatial attentional deployment, namely attentional disengagement, in an asymmetrical fashion. For this purpose, we administered to healthy participants a prolonged gap/overlap saccadic paradigm, with left- and right-sided target stimuli. This oculomotor paradigm allowed to quantify disengagement costs according to the direction of the subsequent attentional shifts, and to evaluate the temporal development of disengagement costs with increasing time-on-task. Our results show that, with increasing time-on-task, participants demonstrated significantly lower disengagement costs for rightward compared to leftward saccades. These effects were specific, since concurring side differences of saccadic latencies were found for overlap trials (requiring attentional disengagement), but not for gap trials (requiring no or less attentional disengagement). Moreover, the results were paralleled by a non-lateralised decrease in saccadic peak velocity with increasing time-on-task, a common finding indicating an increasing level of fatigue. Our findings support the idea that non-spatial attentional aspects, such as fatigue due to increasing time-on-task, can have a substantial influence on the spatial deployment of visual attention, in particular on its disengagement, depending on the direction of the subsequent attentional shift.




Paladini, R. E., Diana, L., Nyffeler, T., Mosimann, U. P., Nef, T., Müri, R. M., & Cazzoli, D. (2016). The asymmetrical influence of increasing time-on-task on attentional disengagement. Neuropsychologia, 92, 107–114.

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