Operators who readily acquire patterns and cues, risk being miscued in routinized settings

Sue Brouwers*, Mark Wiggins, Barbara Griffin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The detection of critical cues is a hallmark of expert performance, and in high-risk settings, it can prevent serious incidents. A sensitivity to cues and a proclivity to rapidly acquire patterns during routinized tasks, however, can miscue performance when these patterns change. In the present study, 75 university students undertook an assessment of cue utilization and engaged in a 24-min rail control simulation. The rail control task involved monitoring with periodic interventions to reroute trains, according to a train-track matching rule. A hidden pattern in the sequencing of trains presented an opportunity to predict train movements and reduce the workload. This pattern was programmed to abruptly change 3 times during the rail task. Based on the response latency performance of participants and their detection of the rail task pattern (verbal descriptions), the results suggested that individuals who are sensitive to cues and who also detect patterns of dynamic stimuli (following limited exposure) experience a relatively greater risk of misapplying rules or misdiagnosing situations in routinized environments when stimuli change. Following a temporary decline in performance, however, if there are continued pattern changes, the performance of these individuals will remain unaffected. The implications are discussed for training and system design.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)261-274
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


    • cue utilization
    • learning
    • miscues
    • rail control
    • skill acquisition


    Dive into the research topics of 'Operators who readily acquire patterns and cues, risk being miscued in routinized settings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this