Cue utilization differentiates performance in the management of interruptions

Emma C. Falkland*, Mark W. Wiggins, Johanna I. Westbrook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objective: To examine the role of cue utilization in the management of interruptions during a high workload, rail control simulation. Background: High-risk, high-consequence environments are characterized by cognitively demanding, time-critical activities, in which operators are required to manage frequent interruptions under conditions of high workload. Interruptions are deleterious to performance as they impose excessive cognitive demand on limited working memory resources, thereby depleting residual resources for the primary task. Cue utilization may enable superior performance in managing interruptions through efficiencies gained by the application of implicit patterns stored in long-term memory. Method: Two experiments were conducted. In Experiment 1, 46 university students undertook an assessment of cue utilization and subsequently engaged in a high workload, simulated rail control task while managing multiple interruptive tasks. Experiment 2 replicated and extended Experiment 1, wherein 52 university students completed a measure of cue utilization and engaged in a high workload, simulated rail control task while managing multiple interruptions and breaks. Results: The analyses revealed that participants who demonstrated a greater capacity for cue utilization also demonstrated a reduced loss of performance following interruptions. Conclusion: The outcomes suggest a relationship between a greater capacity for cue utilization and superior performance in the management of interruptions in high workload conditions. Application: Assessments of cue utilization may assist in the selection and training of operators in high-consequence, high-risk environments, to ensure efficient and accurate performance during the management of interruptions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Factors
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jun 2019

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Keywords

  • cue utilization
  • distractions
  • mental workload
  • task switching
  • dual tasks
  • decision making

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