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  • Special Section Methodological Approaches To The Study Of Sustained Work/Sustained Operations
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Microcomputer analyses of performance on a portable, simple visual RT task during sustained operations


The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania There is a need for brief, portable performance measures that are free of practice effects but that reliably show the impact of sleep loss on performance during sustained work. Reaction time (RT) tasks hold considerable promise in meeting this need, if the extensive number of responses they typically yield can be processed in ways that quickly provide the essential analyses. While testing the utility of a portable visual RT task during a sustained, quasi-continuous work schedule of 54 h, we developed a microcomputer software system that inputs, edits, transforms, analyzes, and reduces the data from the RT portable audiotapes, for each 10-min trial on the task. With relatively minor modifications, the software system can be used on a minimally configured microcomputer system that supports BASIC. The software is flexible and capable of retrieving distorted data, and it generates a variety of dependent variables reflecting intratrial optimum response capacity, lapsing, and response slowing.


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Correspondence to David F. Dinges.

Additional information

This research was supported in part by Office of Naval Research Contract N00014-80-C-0380 to the first author and in part by a grant from the Institute for Experimental Psychiatry. We thank Robert Wilkinson of the MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Psychophysiology Section, for developing the VRT device and for suggestions regarding its use, and Stephen R. Fairbrother for contributing to the development of the analyses; we acknowledge the helpful comments of Emily Carota Orne. Wayne G. Whitehouse, Martin T. Orne, and David A. Soskis.

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Dinges, D.F., Powell, J.W. Microcomputer analyses of performance on a portable, simple visual RT task during sustained operations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers 17, 652–655 (1985).

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  • Sleep Loss
  • Trial File
  • False Start
  • Sustained Operation
  • Visual Reaction Time