Studies in Personnel and Industrial Psychology

By Edwin A. Fleishman | Go to book overview

49. Recent Experimental Work in the Study of Fatigue*

D. C. Fraser

THE SUBJECT of this paper, fatigue, is one of the major problems of human functioning. A good deal of rather sporadic research has been carried out on it, but it is perhaps only in the last five to ten years that intensive experimenting has made it possible to produce dependable and meaningful results.

Fatigue presents two basic difficulties to the experimenter--of definition and measurement. We are able to offer an answer to both, but we do not suggest that we have solved them completely, only that we have perhaps gone a little further than previous experimenters.

First, definition. The man in the street thinks he knows what he means by fatigue, but the experts are much less confident. Some people use the terms to indicate such things as weariness or boredom, subjective feelings in the individual. Others tend to restrict the term to more objective phenomena--to biochemical changes in tissue, deterioration in performance of some skilled task as the result of long periods of work, and so on. Many psychologists now tend to fight shy of the term altogether. This, I think, is a policy of despair.

However, as the result of systematic research, starting with the wartime studies of pilot error at the Applied Psychology Research Unit in Cambridge and using the well-known apparatus called the Cambridge Cockpit, it has been possible to show certain common features which develop as the individual becomes fatigued. This type of analysis has only proved applicable to studies of deterioration during the task itself. One of the biggest snags in the measurement of fatigue has been the difficulty of obtaining a good, objective test which is not part of the performance of the task under examination. It might seem likely that changes in threshold function, or differences in reaction time would provide a simple and reliable measure of fatigue, and indeed it would be very convenient if such changes did occur. But unfortunately a large amount of careful experimentation has shown that there appears to be virtually no change in isolated measures of function as the result of fatigue.

____________________
*
From Occupational Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 4, Oct., 1958; this paper was originally read to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Sept., 1955. It is a pleasure to express my thanks to Sir Frederic Bartlett for his critical reading of this paper.

-473-

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