Coding warnings without interfering with dismounted soldiers’ mission

Abstract

Objectives: Warnings are an effective way to communicate hazard, yet they can also increase task demand when presented to operators involved in real-world tasks. Furthermore, in military-related tasks warnings are often given in codes to avoid counter-intelligence, which may foster additional working memory load. Background: Adherence to warnings in the military domain is crucial to promote safety and reduce accidents and injuries. The empirical question arises as to how aspects of coding the warning may interfere with the primary task the individual is currently performing and vice versa. Method: Six experimental conditions were designed to assess how warning-code storage format, response format, and increasing working memory demand (retention) affected both performance on the primary task and the rate of compliance to warnings, considered here as the secondary task. Results: Results revealed that the combination of warning-code storage and response format affected compliance rate and the highest compliance occurred when warnings were presented as pictorials and responses were coded verbally. Contrary to the proposed hypotheses, warning storage format did not affect performance on the primary task, which was only affected by the level of working memory demand. Thus, the intra-modal warning storages did not interfere with the visual/spatial nature of the primary operational task. However, increase in working memory demand, by increasing the number of memorized warning codes, had an effect on both compliance rate and primary task performance. Conclusions: Rather than warning code storage alone, it is the coupling of warning storage and response format that has the most significant effect on compliance.

The WCCOM (Warning-Color COding Modality) compliance task

This task was developed in collaboration with our colleague Prof. Paul Ward now at Greenwich University in the UK.

The task has  storage and retention components. Each warning item is paired with one of ten possible colours. The storage component requires memorizing the colour associated with each warning symbol (e.g., boots – black). The retention component involves recalling the stored symbol from the colour presented (e.g., black means boots). Both components of the task, the warning item and the color, were displayed in the same modality. There were three options of storage; pictorial, written or verbal as shown in the Figure. This task aims to examine the sensitivity of working memory to presentation modality when engaging  in a demanding operational task.

WCCOM (Warning-Color COding Modality) compliance task

WCCOM (Warning-Color COding Modality) compliance task

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