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Using cerebral hemovelocity to measure workload during a spatialised auditory vigilance task in novice and experienced observers

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This experiment was designed to assess cognitive load using transcranial Doppler sonography during the performance of a 40-min communication vigilance task in which messages were presented in different spatial locations or across a single monaural radio channel. In addition, some observers received 14 hours of practice to determine whether the neurophysiological measure was sensitive to a potential attenuation of workload. Critical messages were detected more frequently in the spatialised audio presentation mode condition, but there were no performance differences between experienced and novice observers. Neurophysiological data show that activation was greater in the novice condition than in the experienced condition, suggesting that novice observers expended greater effort. Furthermore, the neurophysiological measure showed more activation in the monaural radio condition than in the spatialised audio condition. The results support a resource account of vigilance and suggest that cerebral blood flow velocity can be used to diagnose the degree of attentional resource utilisation during vigilance tasks.

Practitioner Summary: Due to high workload experienced during vigilance tasks, displays and methods are sought which enhance performance. This study shows that spatialising auditory communications in a monitoring task enhances performance and attenuates mental workload. Also, experience mitigates excessive workload, and cerebral hemovelocity can be used to diagnose attentional resource utilisation.
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Keywords: cerebral blood flow velocity; mental workload; spatialised auditory displays; training; transcranial Doppler; vigilance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive Fairfax, VA, 22030, USA 2: Air Force Research Laboratory, Warfighter Interface Division, 711th Human Performance Wing Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, 45433, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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