Cognition and lifeguard detection performance

Benjamin T. Sharpe*, Marcus S. Smith, Steven C.R. Williams, Adam Hampshire, Maria Balaet, William Trender, Peter J. Hellyer, Jo Talbot, Jenny Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two experiments aimed to determine whether working memory capacity (WMC) and high-order executive functions predict drown detection performance and maintenance under heightened task demands. Experiment 1 (n = 111) found a positive correlation between enhanced performance scores and higher WMC, while executive function showed no comparable association. Experiment 2 (n = 28) individuals with elevated WMC demonstrated an ability to detect a greater number of drowning events over an extended period overall, relative to their lower scoring counterparts. However, this heightened capacity did not necessarily prevent the presence of vigilance decrement, but enabled lifeguards to perform more effectively under conditions of increased bather numbers. Our findings highlight that lifeguards have a measurable underlying process that may systematically discriminate lifeguards of varying degrees of experience and detection performance. This offers a new avenue for future lifeguarding research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4139
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date12 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • drown detection
  • executive function
  • vigilance
  • working memory capacity


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