Sustained attention is critical to cognition, social competence, and academic success. Importantly, sustained attention undergoes significant development over the early childhood period. Yet, how sustained attention fluctuates over time on task has not been clearly outlined, particularly in young children. In this study, we provide a first test of whether the pupillary response can be used as an indicator of moment-to-moment sustained attention over time on task in young children. Children aged 5 to 7 years (N = 41) completed a psychomotor vigilance task, where they were asked to press a button as fast as possible at the onset of a target stimulus. We measured reaction times over the course of the task, pupil size prior to target onset (baseline pupil size), and pupil size in response to target onset (task-evoked pupil size). The results showed a stereotypical vigilance decrement in children’s response times: as time on task increased, reaction times increased. Critically, children’s task-evoked pupil size decreased over time on task, while no such change was present in baseline pupil size. These results suggest that young children’s waning sustained attention may be linked to a decrease in alertness while overall arousal is maintained. We discuss the importance of leveraging pupillometry to understand the mechanisms of sustained attention over individuals and development.
- sustained attention
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience