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August 2004 - Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

August 2004 - Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

Featured Lab: MIT 2

Featured Lab: MIT 2 LaboratoryUniversity of Central FloridaJim Szalma, University of Central FloridaThe Minds in Technology, Machines in Thought(MIT 2 ) Laboratory at the University of CentralFlorida (UCF) was the concept of Dr. PeterHancock and is devoted to theoretical andempirical research to enhance our understandingof how humans and technology interact. The labis currently funded under a 5-year, $5 millionMURI (Multi-disciplinary University ResearchInitiative) by the Army Research Office to studyperformance, workload, and stress associatedwith the cognitive and physical tasks that facesoldiers on the modern battlefield. Collaboratorsinclude researchers at George Mason University,Linköping University/Institute of Technology inLinköping, Sweden, and the University ofCincinnati, as well as members of the TeamPerformance Laboratory at UCF.Members of the MIT 2 lab have been activelypursuing several lines of research, and the studyof individual differences is an integral part of ourresearch program. Here I will briefly describeone line of research on individual differences inperformance, perceived workload, and stress intasks requiring selective and sustained attention.These studies have revealed that personalitytraits such as dispositional pessimism interactwith task characteristics to influence howobservers respond to task demands.The Effect of Pessimism on StressMeasure of PessimismIn our laboratory we use the Optimism-Pessimism Inventory developed by WilliamDember and his colleagues at the University ofCincinnati (see Dember, Martin, Hummer,Howe, and Melton, 1989). This instrumentconsists of a 56-item (18 items indicatingoptimism, 18 indicating pessimism, and 20 filleritems) regarding the individual’s attitudes andexpectations. Scores on the OPI range from 18 to72. Several studies using the OPI have indicatedthat optimism and pessimism are not simplypolar opposites, but are partially independent,with correlations in the range of .5 (for a reviewsee Dember, 2002).Measure of StressTo measure subjective stress we employ the asmeasured by the Dundee Stress StateQuestionnaire (DSSQ; Matthews et al., 1999;2002). The DSSQ is a well validatedmultidimensional instrument for measurement ofthe cognitive, emotional, motivationalcomponents of stress response. Eleven factoranalyticallydetermined scales form three globalsecondary factors indicating the individual’slevel of Distress, characterized by tension, lowconfidence, and low hedonic tone, TaskEngagement, characterized by the individual’slevel of intrinsic and success motivation, abilityto concentrate, and level of energetic arousal,and Worry, characterized by self-focusedattention, self-esteem, task related cognitiveinterference (worry regarding task performance)and task irrelevant cognitive interference(thoughts unrelated to the task at hand).IDIP Newsletter, Vol. 15 No 1 4

Pessimism, Stress, and CopingUsing the DSSQ, Thropp, Szalma, Ross, &Hancock (2003) examined the performance andstress associated with three signal detectiontasks: 1) a letter discrimination task with spatialuncertainty; 2) a temporal duration discriminationwithout spatial uncertainty; and 3) atemporal discrimination task with spatialuncertainty. They reported that high levels ofpessimism predicted increased post-task Distressacross all three tasks (see Figure 1), a resultconsistent with the findings of previousexperiments (Helton, Dember, Warm &Matthews, 1999; Szalma, 2002). DecreasedTask-Engagement was also observed, but onlyfor tasks with spatial uncertainty as a component(see Figure 2). We also observed that morepessimistic individuals tend to engage in moreavoidant coping (see Figure 3; Lazarus &Folkman, 1984; Matthews & Campbell, 1998),regardless of task type, and that they tend to useemotion-focused coping in target detection taskswith spatial uncertainty (see Figure 4). It isunclear, at present, whether it is spatialuncertainty per se, or the added demands suchuncertainty places on an observer that isresponsible for these effects.Although in general one might expectpessimistic individuals to engage in emotionfocusedand avoidant coping, our data suggestthat the degree to which pessimistic operatorsengage in theses strategies depends in part on thecharacteristics of the task. The results generallyconfirm that pessimism can influence stress andcoping with task demands, and that the stressresponse is multidimensional in character(Matthews, 2001). Thus, stress is at leastpartially dictated by both trait differences amongindividuals and by characteristics of the task.Efforts are currently underway to further explorethese performance/stress differences amongindividuals engaged signal detection tasks. Inaddition, we are examining individualdifferences in performance, workload, and stressin shooting tasks, both in simulation and in fieldstudies using police officers. Note thatpessimism/optimism is not the only individualdifferences variable we are investigating. Inother lines of research we are also examiningindividual differences in attention allocation,working memory capacity, as well as traitanxiety and extraversion.To learn more about our laboratory visit ourwebsite at http://www.mit.ucf.edu. Note,however, that we are currently ‘underconstruction.’ We hope to have our new andimproved website up very soon.ReferencesDember, W.N. (2002). The optimism-pessimisminstrument: Personal and social correlates.In: E.C. Chang (Ed.), Optimism andpessimism: Implications for theory,research, and practice. (pp. 281-299).Washington, DC: American PsychologicalAssociation.Dember, W.N., Martin, S.H., Hummer, M.K.,Howe, S.R., & Melton, R.S. (1989). Themeasurement of optimism and pessimism.Current Psychology: Research andReviews, 8, 102-119.Helton, W.S., Dember, W.N., Warm, J.S., &Matthews, G. (1999). Optimism-pessimismand false failure feedback: Effects onvigilance performance. CurrentPsychology, 18, 311-325.Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress,appraisal,and coping. New York:Springer-Verlag.Matthews, G. (2001). Levels of transaction: Acognitive science framework for operatorstress. In: P.A. Hancock and P.A.Desmond (Eds.), Stress, workload, andfatigue. (pp.5-33). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.IDIP Newsletter, Vol. 15 No 1 5

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