Self-Alert Training: volitional modulation of autonomic arousal improves sustained attention

Redmond G O'Connell, Mark Andrew Bellgrove, Paul Dockree, Adam Lau, Michael F Fitzgerald, Ian H Robertson

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91 Citations (Scopus)


The present study examines a new alertness training strategy (Self-Alert Training, SAT) designed to explore the relationship between the top-down control processes governing arousal and sustained attention. In order to maximally target frontal control systems SAT combines a previously validated behavioural self-alerting technique [Robertson, I. H., Tegner, R., Tham, K., Lo, A., Nimmo-Smith, I. (1995). Sustained attention training for unilateral neglect: Theoretical and rehabilitation implications. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 17, 416-430] with an autonomic arousal biofeedback protocol in which participants learn to modulate their own arousal levels. The SAT protocol was first validated with a group of 23 neurologically healthy participants and then independently tested in a group of 18 adults with ADHD to determine its clinical utility. Half of the participants in each group were assigned to a placebo condition to control for non-specific effects. All participants performed the sustained attention to response task (SART) during pre- and post-training testing sessions to assess training effects on sustained attention. By the end of SAT all participants were able to modulate their own arousal levels without external prompting. Comparison of pre- and post-training baseline data indicated that, as predicted, SAT was associated with increased levels of autonomic arousal accompanied by improved accuracy on the SART. In contrast, participants in the placebo condition exhibited a gradual reduction in arousal over time and increased reaction time variability indicative of a vigilance decrement. These data demonstrate that the recruitment of top-down control processes during volitional modulation of arousal leads to improved sustained attention. These findings have important implications for the rehabilitation of attention deficits arising from frontal dysfunction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1379 - 1390
Number of pages12
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

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