Academic journal article Human Factors

A Comparison of Sequential and Spatial Displays in a Complex Monitoring Task

Academic journal article Human Factors

A Comparison of Sequential and Spatial Displays in a Complex Monitoring Task

Article excerpt


In many complex systems, such as aircraft, nuclear power plants, and automobiles, little space is available in which to present information to the operator. As systems are engineered with increasing complexities and capabilities, additional information needs to be presented to the operator. One example of a display that presents additional information to the operator in a small amount of space is the multifunction display found in some airplanes. The multifunction display is a technology that enables operators to access multiple screens of information in a single spatial location.

Sequential displays, or rapid serial visual presentations (RSVPs), have also been suggested as a way to present information in environments in which space is at a premium. In the present study we investigated the utility of sequential displays, known as RSVP or rapid communication (RAP COM), for the detection and identification of dynamic information. The RSVP or RAP COM displays were compared with more conventional, spatially distributed displays.

Rapid Serial Visual Presentation

RSVP is a technique that presents textual information in sequence to the same location in space. Forster (1970) coined the term RSVP when rapidly presenting single words to the same spatial location. Multiple words, clauses, and sentences have also been presented using the RSVP format (Bourne, Young, & Angell, 1986; Juola, Ward, & McNamara, 1982). A general operational definition of RSVP was provided by Young (1984):

RSVP involves successive presentation of small units of text to a viewer. The units of text usually do not exceed a single line and are normally presented for a preselected amount of time. (P. 121)

RSVP reading differs from conventional reading in that eye movements are minimized, and even eliminated, with single-word presentation. However, RSVP presentation does not allow the reader to regress in order to read a previous word, preview words in the periphery, or skip text. Words are usually presented for the same amount of time with the RSVP technique. With conventional reading, gaze duration often varies from word to word (Just, Carpenter, & Woolley, 1982).

When clauses or idea units are presented in an RSVP window, eye movements are required to scan the clause. If the advantage of RSVP is gained only by reducing eye movement planning and execution, performance using clauses in the RSVP format should not be better than in conventional reading. However, better performance has been found using RSVP than using conventional reading (Young, 1984). Young speculated that part of the reason performance is better with RSVP is because chunking of meaningful units has already been completed and, hence, the reader does not have to parse the text.

Cocklin, Ward, Chen, and Juola (1984) found equivalent text comprehension using conventional page layout format and RSVP. They varied the number of words per window and frame duration and discovered that a length of 12 character spaces was optimal for reading comprehension. Cocklin et al. also segmented sentences into short, structured ideas or random segments of equal length. Comprehension was better for the structured condition than for the random condition. They conjectured that processing resources for parsing text are freed up to allow more resources for comprehension and the maintenance of information across RSVP displays. Masson (1986) investigated single-sentence comprehension using RSVP and found evidence suggesting that sentence integration processes occur even though presentation is faster than traditional reading with eye movements.

In summary, reading performance using RSVP has been demonstrated to be no worse, and sometimes better, than that of conventional reading (Bouma & deVoogd, 1974; Juola et al., 1982; Potter, Kroll, & Harris, 1980; Raygor, 1974; Ward & Juola, 1982). This evidence indicates that RSVP could possibly be used as a reading aid and applied in instructional settings. …

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