Manipulating perceptual parameters in a continuous performance task

Nir Shalev, Glyn Humphreys, Nele Demeyere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustained attention (SA) is among the most studied faculties of human cognition, and thought to be crucial for many aspects of behavior. Measuring SA often relies on performance on a continuous, low-demanding task. Such continuous performance tasks (CPTs) have many variations, and sustained attention is typically estimated based on variability in reaction times. While relying on reaction times may be useful in some cases, it can pose a challenge when working with clinical populations. To increase interpersonal variability in task parameters that do not rely on speed, researchers have increased demands for memory and response inhibition. These approaches, however, may be confounded when used to assess populations that suffer from multiple cognitive deficits. In the current study, we propose a new approach for increasing task variability by increasing the attentional demands. In order to do so, we created a new variation of a CPT – a masked version, where inattention is more likely to cause misidentifying a target. After establishing that masking indeed decreases target detection, we further investigated which task parameter may influence response biases. To do so, we contrasted two versions of the CPT with different target/distractor ratio. We then established how perceptual parameters can be controlled independently in a CPT. Following the experimental manipulations, we tested the MCCPT with aging controls and chronic stroke patients to assure the task can be used with target populations. The results confirm the MCCPT as a task providing high sensitivity without relying on reaction speed, and feasible for patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-391
Number of pages12
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, The Author(s).


  • Ageing
  • Alertness
  • Attention
  • CPT
  • Chronic stroke
  • Continuous performance task
  • Methods
  • Stroke
  • Sustained attention
  • Temporal attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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