Mental workload and cognitive task automaticity: an evaluation of subjective and time estimation metrics
Abstract The evaluation of mental workload is becoming increasingly important in system design and analysis. The present study examined the structure and assessment of mental workload in performing decision and monitoring tasks by focusing on two mental workload measurements: subjective assessment and time estimation. The task required the assignment of a series of incoming customers to the shortest of three parallel service lines displayed on a computer monitor. The subject was either in charge of the customer assignment (manual mode) or was monitoring an automated system performing the same task (automatic mode). In both cases, the subjects were required to detect the non-optimal assignments that they or the computer had made. Time pressure was manipulated by the experimenter to create fast and slow conditions. The results revealed a multi-dimensional structure of mental workload and a multi-step process of subjective workload assessment. The results also indicated that subjective workload was more influenced by the subject's participatory mode than by the factor of task speed. The time estimation intervals produced while performing the decision and monitoring tasks had significantly greater length and larger variability than those produced while either performing no other tasks or performing a well practised customer assignment task. This result seemed to indicate that time estimation was sensitive to the presence of perceptual/cognitive demands, but not to response related activities to which behavioural automaticity has developed.