Supervisory Control in a Dynamic and Uncertain Environment: A Process Model of Skilled Human–Environment Interaction

Alex Kirlik, R. A. Miller, Richard J. Jagacinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An understanding of how both psychological and environmental factors mutually constrain skilled behavior is required to effectively support human activity. As a step toward meeting this need, a process model of skilled human interaction with a dynamic and uncertain environment is presented. The model was able to mimic human behavior in a laboratory task requiring one- and two-person crews to direct the activities of a fleet of agents to locate and process valued objects in a simulated world. Reflective of the need to explicitly consider both environmental and cognitive influences on behavior, the process model is a pair of highly interactive components that together mimic the behavior of the human-environment system. One component is a representation of the external environment as a dynamically changing set of opportunities for action. This environmental component is based on the ecological viewpoint that relations indicating the match between the human's capacity for action, and actions made available by the environmental structure, should serve as primitives in the description of the environment for the skilled performer. The second component is a dynamic representation of skilled human decisionmaking and planning behavior within the environment so described. Modeling both human and environment in an integrated fashion allowed for a description of behavior as being mutually influenced by the external environmental structure and an internal priority structure over available actions. Sensitivity to environmental structure ensured that action selection opportunistically exploited the dynamic possibilities for action afforded by the external situation, whereas the priority structure ensured that action selection was also consistent with task goals. The process model is an expression of a general theory of skilled interaction assuming that perception and action mechanisms sensitive to environmental constraints are responsible for generating much of behavior, and where the need for additional cognitive processing of internal representations (e.g., probleMSpace search, multiple option comparison) may result from environmental designs that do not adequately support the perceptual guidance of activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-952
Number of pages24
JournalIEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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