Vigilance pp 603-616 | Cite as

The Effect of Mental Set and States of Consciousness on Vigilance Decrement: A Systematic Exploration

  • Roger Ware
  • Robert A. Baker
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 3)


Previous research by the authors and others has shown the human operator to be a notoriously inefficient monitor. Unless motivation is unusually high and stringent and unusual methods are employed, infrequent, aperiodic, and near-threshold signals are rarely detected. Failure to heed such cues or signals in either the natural or manmade environment in hundreds of military, industrial, or everyday situations could--and often does--;prove disastrous. To increase the alertness level and reduce the typical vigilance decrement researchers have increased and decreased the signal rate, signal variability, signal intensity, and signal complexity. Both positive and negative feedback have been provided and environmental stimulation has been systematically increased, decreased, and varied in quality. In fact, nearly everything imaginable has been tried with only moderate success in increasing the level of sustained alertness.

Although a number of personality, motivational, and individual difference variables have been studied, very little research on the effect or influence of internal states--with the exception of the effects of some of the more popular drugs and narcotics--has been undertaken. Particularly noticeable by its absence is systematic research on the influence of mental set or suggestion or levels of consciousness. To our knowledge no one has explored the vigilance performance of subjects (Ss) while in the hypnoidal state or while under the influence of post-hypnoidal suggestion. It seems reasonable that if Ss can be put into, and/or can be helped to maintain, a state of hyper-alertness by or through any means whatsoever, supeior vigilance performance should result. In fact, some exploratory research along these lines has been carried out.

Observations of hundreds of subjects have led the authors to suggest that monitoring efficiency is directly related to the S’s task orientation, i.e., his ability to control his attentional shifts and their focus and drift. If, for example, the monitor’s flights of fancy are related to or are concerned with elements or aspects of the vigilance task itself, there will be little or no decrement in the level of vigilance as the watch continues. This paper presents the results of some exploratory research testing this task-orientation or self-awareness control hypothesis and outlines a program of research for systematically exploring this hypothesis.


Detection Performance Task Orientation Internal Dialogue Monitoring Task Vigilance Task 
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.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger Ware
    • 1
  • Robert A. Baker
    • 2
  1. 1.Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ.IndianapolisUSA
  2. 2.University of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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