Analysis of the Processing Requirements of a Complex Perceptual-Motor Task

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Current concerns in the assessment of mental workload are discussed, and the event-related brain potential (ERP) is introduced as a promising mental-workload index. Subjects participated in a series of studies in which they were required to perform a target acquisition task while also covertly counting either auditory or visual probes. The effects of several task-difficulty manipulations on the P300 component of the ERP elicited by the counted stimulus probes were investigated. With sufficiently practiced subjects the amplitude of the P300 was found to decrease with increases in task difficulty. The second experiment also provided evidence that the P300 is selectively sensitive to task-relevant attributes. A third experiment demonstrated a convergence in the amplitude of the P300s elicited in the simple and difficult versions of the tracking task. The amplitude of the P300 was also found to covary with the measures of tracking performance. The results of the series of three experiments illustrate the sensitivity of the P300 to the processing requirements of a complex target acquisition task. The findings are discussed in terms of the multidimensional nature of processing resources.

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Human Factors, v. 25, issue 6, p. 597-621