★ We tested whether vigilance for a global versus local feature task differs. ★ Performance improved late in the local task, but not the global feature task. ★ There was increasing bilateral cerebral activation in the local task over time. ★ For the global task there was decreasing left hemisphere activation over time. ★ The results suggest global–local feature discrimination plays a role in vigilance.
Despite a long history of vigilance research, the role of global and local feature discrimination in vigilance tasks has been relatively neglected. In this experiment participants performed a sustained attention task requiring either global or local shape stimuli discrimination. Reaction time to local feature discriminations was characterized by a quadratic trend over time-on-task with performance levels returning to initial levels late in the task. This trend did not occur in the global shape discrimination task. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was utilized in this study as an index of cerebral activation. In both tasks there was increased right hemisphere relative to left hemisphere oxygenation and right hemisphere oxygenation increased with time-on-task. Left hemisphere oxygenation, however, decreased slightly in the global task, but increased significantly in the local task as task duration increased. Indeed, total oxygenation, averaging both right and left, increased more with time-on-task in the local discrimination task. Both the performance and physiological results of this study indicate increased utilization of bilateral cerebral resources with time-on-task in the local, but not the global discrimination vigil.