Cognitive Research, Modeling, Task Analysis

To an ever greater extent, technology is explicitly designed to enhance human cognitive powers or to compensate for human cognitive weaknesses. To do this succesffully, designers must have a good understanding of what those strengths and weaknesses are. CTI staff have contributed significantly to the research literature on cognitive models of thinking and decision making, and on the practical use of such models for cognitive task analysis, training, and decision aiding.

CTI has conducted empirical studies of real-world decision making in domains ranging from commercial airline pilots to Army battlefield commanders and Navy ship captains. These studies have involved controlled experiments, simulator studies, real-time operational observations, and intensive critical incident interviews.

We have developed a number of techniques for analyzing and understanding the knowledge and decision making skills exemplified in these performances. CTI has developed and applied innovative methods for for eliciting and representing mental models, or domain knowledge. CTI staff developed a knowledge elicitation method called Cognitive Structure Analysis which systematically and efficiently probes for different classes of knowledge representation. More recently, CTI has done extensive work on techniques for automated knowledge acquisition. THis work has utilized Latent Semantic Analysis and Discriminant Analysis to identify knowlegde structures underlying expertise.

CTI's training and decision aiding applications draw on general principles that we have learned from our experience applying these techniques in many domains. In additon, new applications always draw on intensive investigation of the cognitive skills demanded for success in the new problem domain.

Comparison of the performance of more and less proficient decision makers has led us to formulate a model of critical thinking in real world domains. The Recognition / Metacognition Model emphasizes both fast recognition of familiar situations and more reflective strategies for detecting and resolving potential problems in a current situation picture or plan. The R/M model is consistent with a wide research literature including CTI's own empirical research. On the normative side, a theoretical basis is provided for it by a broader theory of critical thinking recently developed by CTI, as a process of constructing mental models about possible situations by asking and answering questions, in order to achieve a purpose. The R/M model has been used as a guide for both training and decision aiding, and a computational architecture has been implemented for purposes of simulation and adaptive training.

See also:

Decision Making Under Uncertainty and Time Stress
(Naval Air Warfare Center / Training Systems Division, Orlando, FL)

CTI has conducted a series of projects within the TADMUS program. These included:

  • Studies of individual decision making and development of individual training for critical thinking,

  • Studies of team decision making and development of team training for critical thinking, and

  • Design of decision support system modules for critical thinking along with design of training to facilitate use of those modules.

In its research on individual and team decision making, CTI has developed models of knowledge structures and decision making strategies of Naval officers in anti-air and anti-surface warfare. Interview data have been analyzed and modeled to understand how decision making succeeds and fails.

Situation Assessment, Mental Models, & Critical Thinking
(Army Research Institute, Ft. Leavenworth Field Unit, KA)

CTI has also conducted a series of projects for the Army Resesarch Institute. These have included:

  • Modeling Army command staff situaiton assessment sKills and development of training to improve those skills,

  • Capturing the knowledge structures (or mental models) utiliized to understand the battlefield and make decisions, and developing training to improve critical thinking in the use of knowledge, and

  • Developing a comprehensive framework for Army research on critical thinking, including evaluation of empirical, normative, and practical issues

Research on situation assessment, mental models, and critical thinking skills was based on in-depth interviews or think-aloud problem-solving simulations with approximately 100 Army command staff officers at a variety of levels of experience and rank.

As part of this work, CTI developed a prototype computer-based system that reperesents an individual decision maker's situation understanding and decisin making as it evolves in real time.

Cognitive Bases of Automated Target Recognition Design
(Army Research Laboratory / Human Research & Development)

CTI conducted research on the perceptual and cognitive underpinnings of target recognition performance by Army combat helicopter pilots, and derived recommendations for the design of automated target recognition (ATR) devices. These recommendations are designed to be compatible with users' perceptual, linguistic, and cognitive processing constraionts.

This work resulted in experiments, models, and design recommendations on a variety of topics. For example:

  1. A model of perceptual processing stagesimages was developed based on error and reaction time data. Enhancement of specific image features was recommended to facilitate pilots' rapid verification of ATR classifications.

  2. Methods for predicting the optimal level of classification labeling by the ATR were developed and tested.

  3. Methods for alerting pilots to ATR uncertianty and for guiding pilot's attention to potential problems were developed and tested

Automated Assessment of Team Expertise
(Navy Personnel Research & Development Center)

The readiness of teams to perform complex tasks hinges critically on cognitive abilities. But the relvant abilities are not well measured in current team evaluations. CTI developed a highly automated approach to assessing the use of mental models associated with proficient performance. Specifically, the approach enables us to
  1. assess the global similarity of individuals and teams to domain experts and journeymen

  2. specify mental models used by experts and journeymen

  3. diagnose specific strengths and deficiencies in the use of those models by individuals and teams.

Commercial Airline Pilot Decision Making
(National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Ames Research Center)

CTI has conducted a series of experimental studies with active duty commercial airline pilots to examine their decision making strategies. The studies have focused on the effects of time constraints, uncertainty, and competing goals. They have also examined interactions among the distributed team composed of pilots, co-pilots, company dispatch, and air traffic control.

Three different studies have found, respectively:

  1. Differences between more and less experienced pilots in the use of dispatch advice and in critical thinking strategies for evaluating that advice

  2. Differences between more and lesse experienced pilots in their ability to adapt the amount of time they take for a decisin to the amount of time available.

  3. Differences between more and lesse experienced pilots in their ability to adapt information collection strategies to different conditions of uncertainty.

Distributed Team Training
(Naval Air Warfare Center / Training Systems Division, Orlando, FL)

CTI developed a framework for modeling the decision making performance of geographically separated subteams (Naval air squadrons) who train separately and then must perform together (as an airwing). A cognitive performance analysis, based on interviews, surveys, and observation of exercises, includes cognitive modeling of knowledge structures and processes relevant to distributed team performance, and an analysis of current successes and shortfalls in current performance.


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