Crichton, M., Flin, R., McGeorge, P., University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Domain experts in complex, hazardous industries have generally developed a high level of expertise, including problem solving strategies, either through experience or training. What happens when they are faced with making decisions under pressure for which they have had little experience? In an emergency situation, both rule-based and analytical decision making strategies can be applied, each of which potentially involves varying degrees of cognitive processing. This project is investigating the cognitive workload underlying decision making in emergencies by on-scene incident commanders, i.e. experts in their particular domain but not necessarily highly experienced in making decisions during emergencies. Firstly, four key factors were identified as influencing decision making strategy selection, namely familiarity with the decision requirement, the availability of procedures (e.g. SOPs), whether advice from specialists or external agencies is required, and uncertainty. Secondly, examples of decisions derived from these factors were then presented to industrial emergency response organisation personnel. Response time measurement combined with Cognitive Task Analysis techniques then defined the mode of decision making used, as well as inherent cognitive demands, and identified the basis of decision options, e.g. whether derived from pre-determined rules or through analogy to previous comparable experience. The results have implications for training for effective performance under stress, and training programme design across a range of industrial settings.