When switching from one task to another, people often fail to completely prepare to perform the new task, indicates research appearing in April's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 31, No. 2). The research challenges previous claims that people preparing for a task switch either completely--without cost to response time or accuracy--or not at all. The study's authors, Oregon State University psychology professor Mei-Chen Lien, PhD, and NASA Ames Research Center colleagues Eric Ruthruff, PhD, Roger Remington, PhD, and James Johnston, PhD, hope their research will eventually aid astronauts who juggle multiple tasks--monitoring displays, working with computers and the like--when flying shuttles.
In one trial, researchers tested their "partial-mapping preparation" hypothesis by having 18 undergraduates view four boxes in a two-by-two grid on a monitor. A colored shape, such as a red triangle, would appear in one box for four seconds. Participants had to press one of three computer keys that corresponded with either the object's color (red, green or blue) or shape (diamond, square or triangle). Participants used the same three keys for both object and color tests.
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