Cognitive Engagement Combats Transport Workers' Monotony

A study published in the September issue of the journal Ergonomics suggests simple solutions for mitigating the problem.

Two Australian researchers have published the results of their study seeking to ameliorate the problem of monotonous work by workers in various transportation modes, including trains and aircraft. Operators' performance declines due to monotony and low task demand, and co-authors Naomi Dunn and Ann Williamson of the University of New South Wales' School of Aviation in Sydney provide evidence for the importance of making these tasks more cognitively engaging.

Their study subjects completed simulated train-driving scenarios, one of low cognitive demand and the other of high demand.

"Although monotony is widely recognised as being detrimental to performance, its occurrence and effects are not yet well understood," their abstract states. "This is despite the fact that task-related characteristics, such as monotony and low task demand, have been shown to contribute to performance decrements over time.... These results highlight the seriously detrimental effects of the combination of monotony and low task demands and clearly show that even a relatively minor increase in cognitive demand can mitigate adverse monotony-related effects on performance for extended periods of time. Monotony is an inherent characteristic of transport industries, including rail, aviation and road transport, which can have adverse impact on safety, reliability and efficiency. This study highlights possible strategies for mitigating these adverse effects."

Their paper is published in Volume 55, Issue 9 of the Taylor & Francis journal Ergonomics, offered by The Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors of Loughborough, England.

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