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The multitasking myth : handling complexity in real-world operations

by Loukia D Loukopoulos; Key Dismukes; Immanuel Barshi

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Concurrent Task Management - The Whys and the Hows   (2010-10-16)


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by kentblair

Ashgate Studies in Human Factors for Flight Operations has released the latest title in a continuing series, The Multitasking Myth: Handling Complexity in Real World Operations by Dr. Key Dismukes, Dr. Loukia Loukopoulos and Dr. Immanuel Barshi. The authors discuss the results of recent research that delves into the performance of crews in dynamic environments and explores why even skilled crews can make mistakes when multitasking. Part of the problem is defined as gaps that exist between the ideal environment that is defined by flight operations policies and procedures, and the reality of complex and variable operations. The scientists, drawing from extensive experience gained as aerospace human factors researchers at NASA Ames, drill down into several critical phases of flight that include taxi, descent, approach and landing. During the course of their applied research they looked for markers that identified problem areas, and conducted analysis of concurrent task management and crew responses during these situations. What they discovered is that humans are not nearly as good at multitasking as previously assumed, and this should be taken into consideration when designing and conducting flight operation policy and procedures. On top of this, crews routinely underestimate their vulnerability to error. Timing of tasks and the character of a specific task also create unique memory and goal completion challenges for crews, and theses challenges can create safety significant issues when they are placed in the context of high tempo operations. Through the course of their research, four patterns of error were identified: 1) Interruptions and distractions, 2) tasks that cannot be executed in the normal practiced sequence of procedure, 3) Unanticipated new tasks and 4) multiple tasks that must be interleaved. The authors also offer areas to focus on error reduction: 1) Improving effectiveness of checklists and monitoring, 2) strategic management of task demands and 3) training and personal techniques

One area that is critically examined is the cognitive aspect associated with processing multiple medias; crews can pay rapt attention to one stream of information at any given moment, while also attempting to manage other demands for attention. Novel situations require focused attention that is relatively slow, effortful and serial. If multiple streams of information compete at the wrong time, critical information or steps in a procedure can be missed, for example information on braking action or proper setting of flaps. These are the types of mistakes that are discovered during mishap investigations, and the goal here is to delve deeper into these cognitive aspects and apply them to future cockpit operations to improve pilot performance. Once applied, the procedures can be measured to see if they had the desired effect and make further refinements as needed. This is addressed in the last section of the book, where examples of applied research at several major airlines are presented.

Why should you read this book? This book artfully explains how cognitive processes become overwhelmed during different activities and the brain strategically reduces criteria for accuracy and quality. It also addresses how to look for the traps that appear between demands of procedural requirements and operations, and related conflict between procedural demands and cognitive ability. These adaptations by the brain may be acceptable in the course of normal activities, but can lead to mishaps when they appear in the real world operations of high reliability organizations.

Captain Kent B. Lewis
USMC (Ret)
Signal Charlie
2009 National FAASTeam Representative of the Year

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