A psychophysiological assessment of operator workload during simulated flight missions

A. F. Kramer, E. J. Sirevaag, R. Braune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has indicated that components of the event-related potential (ERP) may be used to quantify the resource requirements of complex cognitive tasks. The present study was designed to explore the degree to which these results could be generalized to complex, real-world tasks. The study also examined the relations among performance-based, subjective, and psychophysiological measures of operator workload. Seven male volunteers,enrolled in an instrument flight rule (IFR) aviation course at the University of Illinois, participated in the study. The student pilots flew a series of IFR flight missions in a single-engine, fixed-based simulator. In dual-task conditions subjects were also required to discriminate between two tones differing in frequency and to make an occasional overt response. ERPs time-locked to the tones, subjective effort ratings, and overt performance measures were collected during two separate 45-min flights differing in difficulty. The difficult flight was associated with high subjective effort ratings, as well as increased deviations from the command altitude, heading, and glideslope. The P300 component of the ERP discriminated among levels of task difficulty, decreasing in amplitude with increased task demands. Within-flight demands were examined by dividing each flight into four segments: takeoff, straight and level flight, holding patterns, and landings. The amplitude of the P300 was negatively correlated with deviations from command headings across the flight segments. In sum, the findings provide preliminary evidence for the assertion that ERP components can be employed as metrics of resource allocation in complex, real-world environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-160
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'A psychophysiological assessment of operator workload during simulated flight missions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this