PEBL Perceptual Vigilance Task

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Screen shot of PEBL's Perceptual Vigilance Test



Simple reaction time task--an circle stimulus appears at delays between 2 and 12 seconds, and the participant must depress the spacebar as quickly as possible. This is basically the simple RT task, but a version commonly used to measure sleepiness and arousal.


It follows the procedure described by Wilkinson fairly reasonably, with several exceptions.

  • As with the Wilkinson device numeric feedback is given; however unlike that device a running counter is not displayed. The presence of feedback can be controlled with the variable giveFeedback.
  • There are three different types of testing to choose from to determine whether the experiment is complete: time-based, trial-based, and block-based. These are controlled by the testType variable (1, 2, or 3)
    • Time-based will run until a certain time has elapsed
    • Trial-based will run until a specific number of trials have completed
    • Block-based allows one to use an isi-block, which gets sampled from without replacement, and then reshuffled until the number of blocks has elapsed
  • In addition, when the useContinuous variable==1, it will choose a continuous stimulus presentation time between the min and max of timeInterval. Otherwise, it will sample from the set in timeIntervals


By editing script, one can specify aspects of the task: Number of trials, total test duration, isis

Data Output

Data is saved to file ppvt-<gsubnum>.txt. Columns are:

 SubjectNum, Block, Trial, ISI, absolute_Time, RT, trial_type
 for trial type, 1=too fast, 2= OK, 3 = lapse (> 500 ms) 4 = sleep (>30 s)

A summary of the results, with means and standard deviations across delays, is output to ppvt-report-<gsubnum>.txt.


Wilkinson, R. T., & Houghton, D. (1982). Field test of arousal: A portable reaction timer with data storage. Human Factors, 24, 487-493.

Dinges, D. F., & Powell, J. W. (1985). Microcomputer analyses of performance on a portable, simple visual RT task during sustained operations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 17, 652-655.

Research using PEBL PPVT:

Karlen, W., Cardin, S., Thalmann, D., & Floreano, D. (2010). Enhancing pilot performance with a SymBodic system. In Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC), 2010 Annual International Conference of the IEEE (pp. 6599-6602). IEEE.

See Also

PEBL Test Battery

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