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Cognitive diversity and team performance in a complex multiple task environment

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This article examines the multiple effects of cognitive diversity in teams operating complex human-machine-systems. The study employed a PC-based multiple-task environment, called the Cabin Air Management System, which models a process control task in the operational context of a spacecraft's life support system. Two types of cognitive diversity were examined: system understanding and team specialization. System understanding referred to the depth of understanding team members were given during training (low-level procedure-oriented vs. high level knowledge-oriented training). Team specialization referred to the degree to which knowledge about system fault scenarios was distributed between team members (specialized vs. non-specialized). A total of 72 participants took part in the study. After having received 4.5 h of training on an individual basis, participants completed a 1-h experimental session, in which they worked in two-person teams on a series of fault scenarios of varying difficulty. Measures were taken of primary and secondary task performance, system intervention and information sampling strategies, system knowledge, subjective operator state, communication patterns and conflict. The results provided evidence for the benefits of cognitive diversity with regard to system understanding. This manifested itself in better primary task performance and more efficient manual system control. No advantages were found for cognitive diversity with regard to specialization. There was no effect of cognitive diversity on intra-team conflict, with conflict levels generally being very low. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the findings for the engineering of cognitive diversity in teams operating complex human-machine-systems.
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Keywords: Conflict; Team diversity; Team heterogeneity; Team performance; Training

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Fribourg, Rue de Faucigny 2, 1700, Fribourg, Switzerland 2: Institute of Psychology, Darmstadt University of Technology, Alexanderstr.1, 64283, Darmstadt, Germany

Publication date: August 15, 2006

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