Theta Regulation and Radar Vigilance Performance

  • James F. O’Hanlon
  • Jackson W. Royal
  • Jackson Beatty
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 2)


The “vigilance decrement” is the gradual, unconscious loss of the ability to react effectively to infrequent, unpredictable but critical events in passive, monotonous work. It was first identified from records of hostile submarine contacts reported by surface and airborne British radar operators during World War II (see Baker, 1962). That finding was rapidly confirmed by American and Canadian investigators in studies of military personnel operating simulated radar and sonar systems (Anderson & Lindsley, 1944; Solandt & Partridge, 1946). Mackworth’s (1950) classic work followed, and established the methodological precedence which was later followed in literally hundreds of laboratory studies of vigilance phenomena (Davies & Tune, 1970). Mackworth’s famous “clock test” was the first laboratory abstraction of the radarman’s task, and although he was careful to validate the results it produced through comparison with data obtained in a simulated radar task, later workers generally lost sight of the raison d’être for vigilance research. Most workers chose to study vigilance using college student subjects who performed simplistic monitoring tasks in impoverished laboratory environments. To be sure, much valuable information was acquired over the years. In particular, basic psychophysiological concepts of arousal and habituation were studied in the context of prolonged monitoring tasks and a useful, though limited, picture of the relationship between vigilance and brain functions emerged. Nonetheless, the artificial nature of the usual experimental approach has recently caused some to question the practical relevance of the behavioral results and, by implication, the generality of laboratory-established psychophysiological relationships (Kibler, 1965; Teichner, 1972). Our work followed from earlier demonstrations of a basic relationship between the EEG theta rhythm and vigilance, and our own initial success in applying biofeedback for controlling theta. It was also intended to provide results that might be generalized to occupational settings with a minimum risk of exaggeration.


Theta Activity Monitoring Task Radar Operator Vigilance Decrement Simulated Radar 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • James F. O’Hanlon
    • 1
  • Jackson W. Royal
    • 1
  • Jackson Beatty
    • 2
  1. 1.Human Factors Research IncorporatedUSA
  2. 2.University of California at Los AngelesUSA

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