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Harsh V Bhasin

Stress & Workload

Representation of Stress Effects
Harsh V Bhasin
Input Performance
Direct (e.g. Vibration)
Physiological arousal
4 Effects of Stressors
1. They produce psychological experience
2. A change in physiology is often observable
May be short term change (ex: increased heart
rate) or it might be a more sustained effect (ex:
change in the output of catechol-amines)
3. Stressors affect the efficiency of information
processing, usually degrading performance
4. Stressors may have long-term negative
consequences for health
Harsh V Bhasin
Effects of Stressors
May be direct or indirect
Direct effects influence the quality of
information received by the receptors or
the precision in the response
Indirect effects influence the efficiency of
information processing through
mechanisms that have not yet been
Harsh V Bhasin
Environmental Stressors
Vibrating white finger (VWF) syndrome:
enduring loss of sensation to the fingers of a
hand exposed to excessive continuous levels of
high-frequency vibration from sources such as
power tools
Vibration in hand tools disrupt precision of
the hand operating that tool
Harsh V Bhasin
Vibration may disrupt the performance of any eye-
hand coordination task unless hand is stabilized by
external source
Vibration can disrupt the performance of purely
visual tasks through the apparent blurring of the
images perceived
Spatial Frequency Resolution: The smaller the line
or dot that needs to be resolved, the greater will be
the disruptive effect of a given vibration
Harsh V Bhasin
Environmental Stressors
Motion Sickness
Effects at much lower frequency
Decoupling between visual and vestibular inputs
Motion sickness induced by no true motion, as in full-
screen visual displays
Distractor: the discomfort of sickness is sufficiently
intrusive that it is hard to concentrate on anything else,
including task at hand
Harsh V Bhasin
Environmental Stressors
Thermal Stress
Both excessive heat & cold can degrade
Comfort Zone defines a region in the
space of temperature & humidity and is
one in which most work appears to be
most productive
Effects of heat are indirect, affecting
efficiency of info processing
Harsh V Bhasin
Thermal Stress
3 Key Moderating Variables
Body Temperature: moderated by clothing
Air Movement: induced by natural breezes or
fans have effect of diminishing the experienced
amount of heat
Physical work can increase experience of
Long term heat exposure can lead to
dehydration, heat stroke or heat
Harsh V Bhasin
Thermal Stress
Long term exposure to the cold can lead
to frostbite, hypothermia and health
Wearing appropriate clothing can trap in
body heat
Value of some clothing (gloves, etc) must be
traded off against some loss in dexterity
Harsh V Bhasin
Environmental Stressors
Air Quality
Often a result of poor ventilation in closed
working spaces (mines, ships)
Also affects environments polluted by
smog or CO (carbon monoxide)
Can lead to anoxia (lack of oxygen) and
pronounced negative influences on
perceptual, motor and cognitive
Harsh V Bhasin
Psychological Stressors
Cognitive Appraisal
It is difficult to ascertain for each individual
what may constitute a threat
Amount of stress for a given
circumstance is related to persons
understanding or cognitive appraisal of
the situation
Harsh V Bhasin
Cognitive Appraisal
Reasons for Different Cognitive Appraisals
Failure to perceive the risk
Failure to understand the risk
Overconfidence in ability to deal with the
If person feels that they are more in control,
they are less likely to experience stress than if
other agents are in control
Harsh V Bhasin
Psychological Stressors
Level of Arousal
Anxiety can produce an increase in
physiological arousal (heart rate, hormonal
Inverted U function of performance
Performance first increases up to a point known as the
optimum level of arousal and then subsequently
decreases as stress-induced arousal increases
Referred to as Yerkes-Dodson Law
Initial increase due to the threat of loss motivating us to
work harder/perform better
Loss in performance above optimum level of arousal
appears to be due to effects of overarousal
Harsh V Bhasin
Yerkes-Dodson Law
Criticized because it cannot specify
the optimum level of arousal due to
the differences between people in
skill and cognitive appraisal

Harsh V Bhasin
Yerkes-Dodson Law
Level of Arousal Low High
Optimum level of Arousal
Psychological Stressors
Performance Changes with Over-arousal
Perceptual/Attentional Narrowing (Tunneling)
Tendency to restrict the range or breadth of attention to
concentrate very hard on only one thing and to ignore
surrounding information
Cognitive Tunneling
Tendency to focus attention exclusively on one
hypothesis of what is going on and ignore potentially
more creative diagnosis by considering a wider range of
Harsh V Bhasin
Performance Changes with Overarousal
Working Memory Loss
Under stress, people appear to be less capable of using
working memory to store or rehearse new material or to
perform computations and other attention demanding
mental activities
Long Term Memory
Will be hampered very little
Tendency under stress to focus on most dominant
thoughts and actions
Problem occurs when appropriate response is not the
frequently encountered one
Harsh V Bhasin
Performance Changes with Overarousal
Strategic Shifts
Taking immediate action
Fast action often sacrifices accuracy through
speed-accuracy tradeoff
Operators cautioned not to take any action at
all for a few seconds until appropriate action is
Harsh V Bhasin
Psychological Stressors
Remediation of Psychological Stress
Depend upon analysis of the likely circumstances
of emergencies and actions that should be taken
Remediation simplifies design of displays, controls
& procedures
Extensive training of emergency procedures can make
them more readily available to long-term memory when
Generic training of emergency stress management can
focus both on guidelines and techniques to reduce the
level of arousal to a more optimal value
Harsh V Bhasin
Life Stress
Stressful life events (death, martial
strife, etc) may be associated with
mishaps on the job
Poorer performance by those stressed
by job-related factors may be related to
lack of attention, resources, or effort
Harsh V Bhasin
Life Stress
Greater safety hazards of some who
suffer life stress may be related to
Maintain awareness of the possibilities
that stress-induced distraction can lead
to breakdowns in safety
Harsh V Bhasin
Work Overload, Underload &
Sleep Disruption
Work Overload, Underload &
Sleep Disruption
All have negative consequences on
Over-load: Too much to do in too little time
Under-load: Too little to do
Vigilance Task: Wait and watch for something to
Both work over-load and under-load can
cause fatigue
Harsh V Bhasin
Time-Line Model
Workload can be described in terms of a
ratio of time required (to do tasks) to time
available to do them in
Lay out a timeline of when different tasks
need to be performed and how long they
typically take
Harsh V Bhasin
Time-Line Model
Harsh V Bhasin
Time-Line Model
Calculate workload from TR/TA ratio (important to
also consider planning/ think time)
Not accurate to assume that work overload will
occur when TR/TA ratio is greater than 1.0
Time varies from occasion to occasion and from person
to person
Means represented as distributions
Measured TR estimated as 90
or 95
percentile of the
Harsh V Bhasin
Time-Line Model
Spare Capacity
Margin of spare time in establishing what an
overload level of TR/TA should be
Necessary to handle the unexpected events
If one or two tasks are learned to a high
level of automaticity, they may easily share
Workload may be heavily modulated by the
extent to which overlapping tasks compete
for common vs. separate resources
Harsh V Bhasin
Time-Stress Effects
If TR/TA increases, something is likely to suffer
Edland & Svenson found following effects
regarding decision making under time pressure:
More selectivity of input, more important sources of that
info given more weight, decrease in accuracy,
decreasing use of strategies that involve heavy mental
computation, and locking onto a single strategy
Harsh V Bhasin
Time-Stress Effects
Time-Stress Effects
People tend to focus on tasks that they
believe to be most important and will
attend to the information sources that
they believe to be most important
People will also focus more on those
info sources that are available
Harsh V Bhasin
Task redesign by trying to assign certain
time-loading tasks to other operators or to
Developing display design such that the
most objectively important sources are
available, interpretable and salient
Training for high time-stress workload
Harsh V Bhasin
Effort & Workload
Changes in workload that cannot be
uniquely associated with time
Automated vs. non-automated task may
occupy same space in time line but
automated task requires less effort
More difficult to predict effort demanded by
a task
Harsh V Bhasin
Work Overload Prediction
Time-line scales can be used to predict, before a
system is built, the workload that will be imposed
by that system or job environment
Prediction relatively easy when TR/TA < 100%
More challenging when TR/TA > 100%
Must take into account task automaticity and multiple
resource competition that will influence performance
Harsh V Bhasin
Mental Workload Measurement
Primary Task Measures
Measures of system performance on the task of
Not really a workload measure per se, but is
influenced by workload
There are circumstances in which good primary
task performance is attained but only at a cost of
high workload (no margin of reserve capacity if
unexpected increases in load occur)
Harsh V Bhasin
Mental Workload Measurement
Secondary Task Measures
Method of measuring reserve capacity
Assumption that performance on primary tasks
takes a certain amount of cognitive resources
Secondary task will use whatever resources are
The fewer the resources, the more the secondary
tasks suffer
Embedded secondary tasks: secondary tasks that
are normally part of a job but have a lower priority
Harsh V Bhasin
Mental Workload Measurement
Physiological Measures
Measures of heart rate variability have
proven to be relatively consistent and
reliable measures of mental workload
Measures of visual scanning are also
useful to understand the qualitative nature
of workload changes
Physiological measures correlate with
other measures of workload
Harsh V Bhasin
Mental Workload Measurement
Subjective Measures
Simply asking operator to rate workload on
a subjective scale
Best scales often anchored by explicit
descriptions of the high and low end of the
Easy to obtain but are limited since they
are subjective (peoples reports do not
always coincide with performance)
Harsh V Bhasin
Mental Workload Measurement
Workload Dissociations
Most features (subjective, physiological, and
secondary task) generally correlate with each
other in discriminating low vs. high workload
conditions allows user to select technique of
Multiple measures recommended where possible
Dissociation occurs when workload measures are
found to increase at the same time that primary
task performance is found to improve
Harsh V Bhasin
While performing a task, performance may
Effects of high (even moderate) workload are
cumulative in terms of build up of fatigue
Role of fatigue important in predicting
consequences of long-duration, sustained
operations or continuous performance
Harsh V Bhasin
Vigilance & Underarousal
Causes of Vigilance Decrement
Key characteristics of environment that lead to
loss of performance in detecting relevant
Time: Longer duration required to maintain vigilance,
greater likelihood that misses will occur
Event Salience: Bright, loud, intermittent and other
salient events more easily detected
Signal Rate: When signal events occur at low rate;
monitoring for presence more effortful & detection
likelihood reduced
Arousal Level: Generally little intrinsic task-related
activity to maintain info-processing system in state of
alertness or arousal
Harsh V Bhasin
Vigilance & Underarousal
Vigilance Remediations
Watches/vigils should not be made too
Signals should be made more salient
Signal enhancement can be cleverly employed
Harsh V Bhasin
Vigilance Remediations
If miss rates are high, possible to alter
criterion for detecting signals through
payoffs (rewards for detection)
To change expectancy (in cases where signals
are rare) introduce false signals
Create/Sustain higher level of arousal
Frequent rest breaks
External stimulation (be cautious not to create
Harsh V Bhasin
Sleep Loss
Can have major consequences
Over 200,000 auto accidents per year attributed to
Major cause of sleepiness contributing to
degradation of performance is deprivation of
sleep during some prior period
cause of sleepiness related to time of the
day-night cycle (phase in circadian rhythms)
Harsh V Bhasin

Sleep latency (top), circadian
rhythms (body temperature),
and sleep duration (bottom) for
2 nights
Harsh V Bhasin
(circa = approximately; dies = a day)
Physiological & biochemical processes in body rise and fall with daily rhythms

Sleep Loss
Sleep latency test: How long it takes a
volunteer to go to sleep in a dark room
on a comfortable bed
Sleep Efficiency: measures how long
we can sleep (greater at night)
Performance fluctuates throughout the
Harsh V Bhasin
Sleep Loss
Performance Loss Due to Sleepiness
Some aspects of performance more susceptible
Sleepiness causes increased blinks, eye closures,
and brief durations of microsleep
Tasks depending on visual input particularly sensitive to
sleep disruption
Judgment, learning/storing new material and tasks
involving self-initiated cognitive activity are
sensitive to sleep disruption
Harsh V Bhasin
Sleep Loss
Remediation to Sleep Disruption
Get more sleep
Even small amounts of sleep 3-4 hours per night can be
quite beneficial in sustaining performance of people after
54 hours of sustained wakefulness
Naps of at least 15 minutes can be effective
Sleep inertia: mind may not function will full efficiency for
the first 8-10 minutes following awakening from a nap
Harsh V Bhasin
Remediation to Sleep Disruption
Sleep Credits
Trying to gain extra sleep prior to a mission or
period when sleep deprivation is anticipated
Sleep Management Program
Role of organization to avoid conditions in
which operators must work long hours in life-
critical jobs, with little sleep
Harsh V Bhasin
Remediation to Sleep Disruption
Drugs like caffeine can combat sleepiness
in the short run
Excessive consumption may be adequate in
short run, but in the long run it disrupts ability to
sleep soundly when sleep time is available
(counterproductive overall)
Avoid working during late night-early
morning hours
Harsh V Bhasin
Describes the situation when circadian
rhythms are out of synchrony with the
level of activity that a person is trying to
Harsh V Bhasin
Shift work
Some jobs must be performed round the clock
Strategies for shift work
Assign workers permanently to different shifts, assuming
that circadian rhythms of workers will finally adapt
(although full adaptation never takes place as long as
worker is exposed to some evidence of natural day-night
Maintain fairly continuous rotation of shifts
Alter shift periods but do so relatively infrequently (14-21
days on one schedule)
Harsh V Bhasin
Shift Work
Shifts that are delayed are more effective
than those that are advanced
Delayed shift is one in which worker would
move from midnight-8am to an 8am-4pm shift
Advanced shift is one in which worker moves
from later to earlier
Shift schedules that adhere to natural
circadian rhythms are preferred by
workers, increase productivity, greater
health & reduced turnover
Harsh V Bhasin
Jet Lag
Desynchronization caused by long-duration east
or west flights
West bound flight is one that makes the day
longer (analogous to a delayed shift)
Circadian rhythms adapt more rapidly and sleep
disruption will be less
East bound flights is one that makes the day
shorter (analogous to an advanced shift)
Leads to slow adaptation and greater disruption of sleep
Harsh V Bhasin
Jet Lag
Waiting until local bedtime to sleep after
one has landed rather than napping during
the day
Exposure to intense light prior to departure
at a time that approximates daylight at the
Biochemically, melatonin can help adapt
circadian rhythms
Harsh V Bhasin
Jet Lag
Harsh V Bhasin

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