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Vigilance or vigility ( Latin Vigilantia "vigilance", "care") refers to a state of constant attention monotonous stimulus frequency (z. B. savvy motorists on highway). It is differentiated from sustained attention, which describes continuous attention at a high stimulus frequency (e.g. reading). Vigilance is mostly used synonymously with wakefulness , which is a partial aspect of consciousness .

Experienced waking states

In a causal-functional view, vigilance means the average level of excitation in the central nervous system , i.e. H. a topological-temporal integration of the brain activity to individual vigilance stages. These correspond to waking states that can be experienced. They can be arranged as quantitative levels of a vigilance series that has two poles:

  • highest excitement, e.g. B. when frightened ;
  • dreamless deep sleep . This definition includes sleep states in the concept of vigilance.

Between these two extreme states of activity there are intermediate stages that can be traversed in an ascending or descending manner, e.g. B. critical attention, relaxation, dozing, light sleep with loss of spatial-temporal orientation and dream activity. The phenomenologically descriptive assessment of the state of vigilance can be contrasted with a number of electrophysiological findings that speak for the presence of certain stages of wakefulness.

In neurology, the following terms are used for reduced vigilance:

  • Somnolence (= sleepy, but easily awakened)
  • Sopor (= deep sleep, can only be woken up by strong stimuli (e.g. pain))
  • Coma (= cannot be woken up)

Vigilance test The patient's sustained attention is measured by a vigilance test in the sleep laboratory , which is carried out on the computer. The patient's ability to react appropriately to rare stimuli, even in monotonous and long-lasting situations, is evaluated here. The vigilance test usually takes 25 to 60 minutes. Narcolepsy patients often do not react, react too late, incorrectly or fall asleep during the test due to their daytime sleepiness.

Vigilance Activity This is an activity that requires constant vigilance . An example of this would be the monitoring of display devices. In the absence of internal thought processes and external stimuli, vigilance can become a burden.

Sustained attention

If one emphasizes the operational aspect, then vigilance means the state of the functional readiness of the organism to react critically to random, threshold-near, rarely occurring events. The vigilance determination in this sense is done by registering the reaction times and observation errors in the context of activities that require constant attention, which are called vigilance services . In this sense, vigilance means the ability to remain alert .

Coping with this monitoring requirement presupposes a certain psychophysiological condition. Sleep stages are excluded from this definition. Donald B. Lindsley (1960/61) differentiates between three stages of wakefulness on the basis of electroencephalogram (EEG) models: the relaxed waking state, the state of wakefulness and that of strong excitement:

  • The relaxed waking state ( relaxed wakefulness ) is characterized by low stress, irregular, low basal activity of the brain-current image with the eyes closed.
  • The condition of the wake attention ( alert attentiveness ) has a synchronous basic activity of the EEG of eight to twelve seconds duration with eyes closed with a voltage level of 30 to 200 μVolt and occipital preference (see alpha rhythm ).
  • In the state of strong excitation ( strong excited emotion ) an asynchronous stream brain image exists, that is, there occur in the EEG different voltage frequencies 14-30 Hertz before, which have only small deflections. The voltage typically remains below 50 µV. The degree of this state is also indicated as arousal .

The first two activity stages of this classification deserve the designation of a passive waking state with and without relaxation, which is to be contrasted with an active waking state .

Vigilance as a mechanism for regulating fear

Heinz W. Krohne's work on fear regulation is based on a theoretical model in which a distinction is made between the two strategies of vigilance and cognitive avoidance.

Vigilance : a person's increased sensitivity to the insecurity that a threat entails. Goal: Reduction of uncertainty.

In contrast, cognitive avoidance is characterized by an increased sensitivity to the arousal associated with fear. Goal: Avoidance of negative affect.

The individual coping style of a person results from the combination of both strategies theoretically conceived as independently.

Neurobiological control

The brain is activated initially via the ascending reticular system (ARAS) in the brain stem (part of the reticular formation ). There the monoamines ( noradrenaline , dopamine , serotonin ) are formed as messenger substances . These activate both the hypothalamus (control of the hormonal centers) and the thalamus , which in turn activates the cerebrum. The activity of the ARAS is subject to the circadian rhythm . Both innate rhythm givers and environmental factors play a decisive role. Information about the brightness of the environment is passed through the suprachiasmatic nucleus , which has direct connections to the reticular formation as well as to the hypothalamus and thalamus. Another important influencing factor is the measurement of the activity of the ascending and descending long tracks ( pyramidal track and loop track ). This allows you to stay awake longer with the appropriate activity.

Vigilance disorder

Vigilance disorder is understood as a gradual impairment of the brightness of consciousness. It can also be described as a quantitative disorder of consciousness .

See also


  • Nils Altner, Birgit Ottensmeier: Growing old like a tree: the science and art of mindful aging. KVC, Essen 2016, ISBN 978-3-945150-51-1 .
  • Jens Asendorpf: Affective Vigilance, a psychological investigation of the defensive defense against fear and anger with special consideration of non-verbal expression of affect . Giessen 1981, DNB 820880663 , (Dissertation University of Giessen 1981, 327 pages).
  • Peter Duus: Neurological-topical diagnostics. Anatomy, physiology, clinic. 6th edition. Thieme, Stuttgart / New York 1995, ISBN 3-13-535806-2 .
  • John PJ Pinel: Biopsychology. An introduction. Spectrum Academic Publishing House, Heidelberg / Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-8274-0084-8 .
  • Manfred Spitzer: Learning-Brain Research and the School of Life. Elsevier, Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg / Berlin 2002, pp. 141–156, ISBN 978-3-8274-1396-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Vigilance  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gerald Ulrich: Psychiatric electroencephalography . Gustav Fischer, Jena 1994, ISBN 3-334-60844-1 , p. 72 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  2. Der Duden 5, Das Fremdwörterbuch , p. 813, third line in the middle
  3. T. Rammsayer, H. Weber: Differential Psychology - Personality Theories (Bachelor's degree in Psychology) . Hogrefe, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-8017-2171-8 .
  4. ^ HW Krohne: Individual differences in emotional reactions and coping. In: RJ Davidson, KR Scherer, HH Goldsmith (eds.): Handbook of affective science . Oxford University Press, New York 2003, pp. 698-725.
  5. Vigilance disorder , vigilance, vigilance . In: Norbert Boss (Ed.): Roche Lexicon Medicine . 2nd Edition. Hoffmann-La Roche AG and Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich, 1987, ISBN 3-541-13191-8 , p. 1788,