Differences in Sustained Attention Capacity as a Function of Aerobic Fitness

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We investigated the relationship between aerobic fitness and sustained attention capacity by comparing task performance and brain function, by means of event-related potentials (ERP), in high- and low-fit young adults.


Two groups of participants (22 higher-fit and 20 lower-fit) completed a 60-min version of the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT). Behavioral (i.e., reaction time) and electrophysiological (ERP) (i.e., contingent negative variation and P3) were obtained and analyzed as a function of time-on-task. A submaximal cardiorespiratory fitness test confirmed the between-groups difference in terms of aerobic fitness.


The results revealed shorter reaction time in higher-fit than in lower-fit participants in the first 36 min of the task. This was accompanied by larger contingent negative variation amplitude in the same period of the task in higher-fit than in lower-fit group. Crucially, higher-fit participants maintained larger P3 amplitude throughout the task compared to lower-fit, who showed a reduction in the P3 magnitude over time.


Higher fitness was related to neuroelectric activity suggestive of better overall sustained attention demonstrating a better ability to allocate attentional resources over time. Moreover, higher fitness was related to enhanced response preparation in the first part of the task. Taken together, the current data set demonstrated a positive association between aerobic fitness, sustained attention, and response preparation.

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