Psychological Research

, Volume 74, Issue 5, pp 499–512 | Cite as

Energetic effects of stimulus intensity on prolonged simple reaction-time performance

  • Robert LangnerEmail author
  • Klaus Willmes
  • Anjan Chatterjee
  • Simon B. Eickhoff
  • Walter Sturm
Original Article


The efficiency of cognition is modulated by energetic factors like effort, fatigue or circadian variation, which affect even the most basic cognitive operations. For instance, speeded detection in simple reaction-time (SRT) tasks usually slows down over time. The literature suggests that either mindlessness due to routinization or mental fatigue due to attentional resource depletion might underlie this decrement. We tested these assumptions in three 25-min visual SRT tasks using easy-to-detect high-intensity and hard-to-detect low-intensity stimuli presented in both blocked and mixed fashion. Mindlessness theory predicts that less monotonous stimulation (i.e. the mixed presentation) would mitigate the time-related decrement for high- and low-intensity stimuli alike, whereas resource-depletion theory predicts opposite effects of mixed presentation on high- versus low-intensity stimuli. Indeed, stimulus intensity and presentation mode cross-interacted significantly, indicating that the performance decline was steeper for high-intensity stimuli but less steep for low-intensity stimuli during mixed compared to blocked presentation, respectively. These results strongly suggest that the time-related efficiency decrement during prolonged SRT performance is related to accumulating mental fatigue. A conjecture is put forward that explains both resource depletion and mindlessness from the perspective of self-regulation. Our study underscores the need to incorporate energetic factors into models of cognition to facilitate their translation into real-world applications.


Presentation Mode Mental Fatigue Task Engagement Mindlessness Theory Vigilance Decrement 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Robert Langner was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, IRTG 1328). We thank Anita Koschmieder for help with data collection and Jan Lonnemann for technical assistance. We are grateful to William Helton, Bob Hockey, Michael Steinborn, Thomas Fischer and Susanne Leiberg for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Langner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    Email author
  • Klaus Willmes
    • 1
  • Anjan Chatterjee
    • 3
  • Simon B. Eickhoff
    • 2
    • 4
  • Walter Sturm
    • 1
  1. 1.Neuropsychology Section, Department of NeurologyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and PsychotherapyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.Department of Neurology, Center for Cognitive NeuroscienceUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.Research Centre JülichInstitute of Neurosciences and MedicineJülichGermany
  5. 5.LFG Neuropsychologie, Neurologische KlinikUniversitätsklinikum AachenAachenGermany

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