Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 168, Issue 1–2, pp 218–229 | Cite as

Sustained attention in traumatic brain injury (tbi) and healthy controls: enhanced sensitivity with dual-task load

  • Paul M. Dockree
  • Mark A. Bellgrove
  • Fiadhnait M. O’Keeffe
  • Pauline Moloney
  • Lina Aimola
  • Simone Carton
  • Ian H. Robertson
Research Article


Poor sustained attention or alertness is a common consequence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and has a considerable impact on the recovery and adjustment of TBI patients. Here, we describe the development of a sensitive laboratory task in healthy subjects (Experiment 1) and its enhanced sensitivity to sustained attention errors in TBI patients (Experiment 2). The task involves withholding a key press to an infrequent no-go target embedded within a predictable sequence of numbers (primary goal) and detecting grey-coloured targets within the sequence (secondary goal). In Experiment 1, we report that neurologically healthy subjects are more likely to experience a lapse of attention and neglect the primary task goal, despite ceiling performance on the secondary task. Further, attentional lapses on the task correlated with everyday attentional failures and variability of response time. In Experiment 2, the task discriminates between TBI patients and controls with a large effect size. The dual-task yields more errors in both groups than a simple task involving only the primary goal that is commonly used to detect sustained attention deficits in neurologically impaired groups. TBI patients’ errors also correlated with everyday cognitive failures and variability of response time. This was not the case in the simple version of the task. We conclude that the dual-task demand associated with this task enhances its sensitivity as a measure of sustained attention in TBI patients and neurologically healthy controls that relates to everyday slips of attention.


Dual-task Sustained attention Traumatic brain injury Prefrontal cortex 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul M. Dockree
    • 1
  • Mark A. Bellgrove
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fiadhnait M. O’Keeffe
    • 1
  • Pauline Moloney
    • 1
  • Lina Aimola
    • 1
  • Simone Carton
    • 3
  • Ian H. Robertson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology & Trinity College Institute of NeuroscienceTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  3. 3.National Rehabilitation HospitalCo. DublinIreland

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