• Report

Individual differences in vigilance tasks


Hubal, R., Reyes, C., & Newlin, D. (2009). Individual differences in vigilance tasks. (Research brief). Research Triangle Park, NC: Institute for Homeland Security Solutions.


Within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a number of occupations (e.g., baggage screening, passenger screening, dispatch, incident command) require sustained levels of attention by an individual—what is termed “vigilance” in this paper—and share four main characteristics:
- The individual must be vigilant to potentially subtle or rare occurrences.
- The individual’s responses do not influence subsequent occurrences.
- There may be high stakes for missing subtle or rare but relevant items.
- The individual might be required to stay “on task” for extended periods of time.
Much research relating to vigilance has focused on occupations somewhat outside the scope of DHS (driving, piloting, air traffic control, and military specialties); however, findings from these areas can be carried over into DHS-related tasks.
In addition, relatively little research has focused on individual differences in vigilance. Some literature suggests individual differences may exist in the ability to maintain vigilance for a rare target over long time periods. However, it is an open question whether some individuals can maintain vigilance fairly easily while others cannot.