A Critical Examination of the Research and Theoretical Underpinnings Discussed in Thomson, Besner, and Smilek (2016)

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Thomson, Besner, and Smilek (2016) propose that performance decrements associated with sustained attention are not consistently the result of a decline in perceptual sensitivity. Thomson et al. (2016) present empirical evidence using a novel, nontraditional vigilance task to support their assumptions. However, in the present rebuttal, we argue that the authors have not only have misinterpreted previous research in sustained attention, but also have misapplied those interpretations to their study. Thomson et al. have also neglected key elements of the literature in their argument, including research on expectancy theory and individual differences on vigilance performance. Furthermore, Thomson and colleagues implement an experimental paradigm that is not appropriate for evaluating sensitivity and bias changes in vigilance tasks. Finally, their analyses do not capture the manner in which changes in response bias and sensitivity can manifest in signal detection theory. We discuss the theoretical and experimental issues contained in Thomson et al. (2016) and propose suggestions for future vigilance research in this area.

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