Multimodal Multitasking: The Combined Effects of Postural and Cognitive Demands on Overall Workload
Cullen, Ralph Haywood
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Workers are challenged by the increasingly complex multitasking environments they experience. To interact effectively with these environments, they must avoid overload. When workers get overloaded (when their mental demands exceed the resource capacity) quality drops, performance degrades, and safety suffers. What is largely unknown, however, is whether these results translate to postural tasks. Postural stability exhibits an entirely different set of challenges: injury, the danger of slips and falls, and risks associated with aging workers or those who have mental or physical challenges. An assembly line worker, for example, must assume different postures, interact with the product in some way, and react to visual and auditory alarms. Mistakes could be dangerous. It is clearly important, then, to understand the interactive effects of mental and postural workload. The goal of this research was to quantify the effects of mental and postural demands on overall workload. To accomplish this, we implemented three studies that were designed to capture the synergistic effects of different task types on overall workload and compare different types of workload measures against each other to help further design research in the area. We designed a dual-task mental/postural protocol to test the differential effects of a series of cognitive demands found in dual-task postural studied. The results of the first study depict a clear picture: the addition of an auditory task to unstable seating decreases postural sway. Based solely on this result, it might be concluded that workload did not increase. Using the same protocol while measuring mental workload however, we found that workload did in fact increase both subjectively and objectively, even when similar postural benefit was found. Even as performance seemed to improve, the participant moved nearer to possible overload and performance decrement (a condition we did not induce in this research). Based on the differences found between the different measures, we believe the importance of measuring overall workload as well as individual task performance in cognitive/postural dual-task research is very high.
- Doctoral Dissertations