Temporal limitations in multiple target detection in a dynamic monitoring task

Walter R. Boot, Ensar Becic, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Two experiments examined the detectability of multiple transient changes within a cluttered and dynamic display (a simulated sonar display). Background: Research suggests that there are severe limitations when multiple targets must be detected within close temporal proximity. The present research explored whether these limitations influence performance in a dynamic monitoring task. Method: Participants monitored a cluttered and dynamic display and reported the number of new objects that appeared (one to four objects). The time between onset events was varied. A blinking cue sometimes accompanied each new object, giving observers multiple opportunities to detect it. Results: A large decrease in performance was observed when participants were asked to detect multiple targets within a short period of time. Performance was worse than predicted based on the attention literature. Performance suffered when observers were asked to detect more than two or three targets. The blinking cue greatly attenuated this performance deficit, even for short-duration blinking cues (one blink). Conclusion: Operators can easily become overwhelmed when asked to respond to even a small number of events when these events occur close in time. Extending transient events in time improves performance, but some attentional limitations may be difficult or impossible to overcome. Application: These results have important implications for systems in which important events may occur within close temporal proximity (e.g., when a sonar operator is tasked with detecting threats in the battle space). Situations in which these limitations may or may not influence performance are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-906
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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