Academic journal article Human Factors

Effects of Automation of Information-Processing Functions on Teamwork

Academic journal article Human Factors

Effects of Automation of Information-Processing Functions on Teamwork

Article excerpt


A large number of work environments that use automation are so complicated that they require multiple operators to simultaneously address tasks and manage automation (Bowers, Oser, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 1996). Although researchers have noted human-automation interaction problems associated with the design of automation in aviation and other domains (Bainbridge, 1987; Coury & Semmel. 1996: Woods, 1996), most of this research has focused on the effects of automation on an individual worker. Some research has suggested that automation may qualitatively change communication between human team members (Johannesen, Cook, & Woods, 1994; Wiener, 1993). With this in mind, there is a need to ascertain the effects of automation on teamwork in order to promote the design of safe and effective systems.

Prior research assessing the effect of automation on teams has produced contradictory results. We first review this research and offer possible explanations for the variety of results. We then suggest an alternative approach for assessing the effect of automation on teams by classifying automation based on its application to different human-machine system information-processing functions in accordance with existing theories of levels of automation (LOAs). In order to predict the effect of different LOAs on teams, we also review research assessing the effects of LOAs on the performance of individuals and research describing characteristics of high-perforating teams. The purpose of this study was to determine whether differences in the form of complex automation have implications for team coordination and performance, to explain these effects in terms of the functional nature of the automation, and to establish how automation may mediate the potential for coordinated teams to achieve high performance.

Effects of Automation on Teams

Existing research on flight deck automation and teams (Bowers, Deaton, Oser, Prince, & Kolb, 1995; Clothier, 1991; Costley, Johnson, & Lawson, 1989; Wise, Guide, Abbot, & Ryan, 1992) provides support for the notion that automation has some type of effect on team coordination; however, results are mixed. Some studies show increases in communication rates (Wise et al.), some show rate decreases (Costley et al.), some suggest detriments to team coordination (Bowers, Deaton, el al.), and some suggest coordination improvements (Clothier). One consistent result across studies on verbal communication and automation is that significant team coordination differences between systems tend to appear when workload is higher (Clothier; Costley).

A possible reason lot the conflicting findings is that studies generally compare team coordination under a new automated system with teamwork in an earlier model aircraft (either through surveys, field studies, or comparisons in high-fidelity simulators); therefore other differences, such as advanced displays, may be affecting team coordination. A second potential problem is that different forms of automation may influence team coordination in different ways. Bowers, Jentsch, and Salas (1994) offered some solutions to these problems, including (a) studying automation using low-fidelity simulation in a laboratory environment so that differences between conditions can be isolated to only those associated with automation and (b) clearly specifying the form of automation used--for example, through a taxonomy of automation.

Jentsch and Bowers (1996) applied these recommendations using a PC-based flight simulator in which the pilot find copilot performed with a single form of automation (autopilot and navigation computer, respectively) on or off. The autopilot represented automation of psychomotor tasks, whereas the navigation computer represented automation of more cognitive functions. They found that performance improved when both automated systems were in use. They also found decreased rates of communication associated with the use of the navigation computer (copilot automation), possibly because the copilot spent time interacting with the navigation computer rather than coordinating with the pilot. …

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