Human Factors and Basic Research on Stress & Performance

Division 19 & 21 Midyear Symposium Highlights

APA Divisions 19 (Military Psychology) and 21 (Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology) joined forces with the Potomac Chapter of the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society again this year to sponsor a mid-winter meeting along the scenic Potomac River at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  An impressive group of researchers kept the 100+ participants engaged throughout the two-day symposium, with presentations on research in human factors issues and cognitive and physical performance under stress.  Highlights of the meeting also included a U.S. Army Night Vision Lab demonstration at nightfall, and an “up close and personal” look at a soldier wearing the latest version of the Army’s Land Warrior high-tech infantry suit, courtesy of Ft. Belvoir’s PEO/PM Soldier Systems group.  Undergraduate behavioral science students made a strong showing, and two groups of cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point won awards from Division 19 for Best Student Poster and Best Student Presentation.

One of the symposium’s featured research teams is the first behavioral science collaboration to receive a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the Army Research Office (ARO).  ARO traditionally has sponsored multidisciplinary research groups in a variety of physical and technological sciences.  In June of 2001, the program made history in awarding $5 million over five years to a behavioral research team that includes scientists from the University of Central Florida, Kansas State University, Catholic University and the University of Minnesota.  The team has begun a line of research examining stress and performance theory, focusing on providing more support for soldiers in the modern battlespace contexts.  Researchers are investigating questions such as, how does stress impact the perception of time?  How does time pressure affect cognitive performance during combat? How does automation unreliability affect decision-making accuracy? 

Another goal of the research team is to develop tools that could be used in a variety of studies to examine a variety of cognitive processes.  For example, Viking is a software package developed by the MURI team that simulates a multi-task environment relevant to infantry personnel.  By having individuals track such dynamic subjects as platoon spacing, aircraft activity, or troop status, this system provides measures of cognitive processes such as monitoring, tracking, decoding, spatial processing and decision making.  Other factors can be manipulated in the environment, such as stress, workload and fatigue, allowing for analysis of the impact of stressors on task output.  Another group of MURI researchers is developing a team-based testbed, also a computer-based simulation program, to examine the impact of stress on cognition and team performance. 

Peter Hancock, PhD, one of the MURI scientists, noted that this group has no desire to keep to themselves.  “We’re addressing a very large and vast problem at the edges of behavior and we have a good core group but we don’t view ourselves as a closed system.  There are lots of good scientists out there who can contribute to our efforts and we welcome their ideas.”  And it seems to be a two-way street.  The Viking program is already being loaned to researchers at the University of Toronto, who’ll be using Canadian military subjects, and the MURI team welcomes others who are interested in conducting similar research to take advantage of their research tools.  Anyone interested in more information about this research effort can check their web site.