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Autonomic nervous system correlates to readiness state and negative outcome during visual discrimination tasks.

Decision-making in daily activities require different levels of mental load depending on both objective task requirements and self-perception of task constraints. Such factors elicit strain that could influence information processing, decision-making, and forthcoming performance. This experiment aimed at studying how task difficulty, errors and unfair feedback may impact strain. Participants were requested to compare two polygons and to decide as quickly and accurately as possible whether these were identical or different. Task difficulty depended upon the number of polygon sides (from 12 to 21 sides) and their degree of similarity (different by 1, 2 or 3 sides). Reaction time (RT) and response accuracy were the dependent variables as well as electrodermal activity (EDA) and Instantaneous Heart Rate (IHR). Physiological variables from the autonomic nervous system were expected to evolve as a function of strain. As expected, we found that RT increased along with task difficulty. Similarly, the amplitude of IHR responses was affected by task difficulty. We recorded bradycardia during the 5 s pre-stimulation period associated with correct responses, while wrong responses were associated with tachycardia. Bradycardia was thus a predictive index of performance related to the readiness to act when the participants focused on external cues. Processing identical polygons elicited longer electrodermal responses than those for different polygons. Indeed, the comparison of two different polygons ended as early as the difference was found. When similar, the participants were still looking for a difference and the issue was uncertain until the performance was displayed. Unfair information, i.e. wrong feedback associated with a good response, as well as response errors elicited larger and longer electrodermal responses. Autonomic nervous system activity was thus task-specific, and correlated to both cognitive and emotional processes. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Journal of Psychophysiology Elsevier
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