A Comparison Of Attentional Reserve Capacity Across Three Sensory Modalities

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Brill, John
multi-modal; tactile; attention; capacity; workload; cross-modal
thesis / dissertation description
There are two theoretical approaches to the nature of attentional resources. One proposes a single, flexible pool of cognitive resources; the other poses there are multiple resources. This study was designed to systematically examine whether there is evidence for multiple resource theory using a counting task consisting of visual, auditory, and tactile signals using two experiments. The goal of the first experiment was the validation of a multi-modal secondary loading task. Thirty-two participants performed nine variations of a multi-modal counting task incorporating three modalities and three demand levels. Performance and subjective ratings of workload were measured for each of the nine conditions of the within-subjects design. Significant differences were found on the basis of task demand level, irrespective of modality. Moreover, the perceived workload associated with the tasks differed by task demand level and not by modality. These results suggest the counting task is a valid means of imposing task demands across multiple modalities. The second experiment used the same counting task as a secondary load to a primary visual monitoring task, the system monitoring component of the Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MATB). The experimental conditions consisted of performing the system monitoring task alone as a reference and performing system monitoring combined with visual, auditory, or tactile counting. Thirty-one participants were exposed to all four experimental conditions in a within-subjects design. Performance on the primary and secondary tasks was measured, and subjective workload was assessed for each condition. Participants were instructed to maintain performance on the primary task, irrespective of condition, which they did so effectively. Secondary task performance for the visual-auditory and visual-tactile conditions was significantly better than for the visual-visual dual task condition. Subjective workload ratings were also consistent with the performance measures. These results clearly indicate that there is less interference for cross-modal tasks than for intramodal tasks. These results add evidence to multiple resource theory. Finally, these results have practical implications that include human performance assessment for display and alarm development, assessment of attentional reserve capacity for adaptive automation systems, and training.