Behavioural implications of alarm mistrust as a function of task workload

Ergonomics. 2000 Sep;43(9):1283-300. doi: 10.1080/001401300421743.


The research was conducted to investigate the effect of increasing primary task and alarm workload on alarm mistrust as reflected by alarm and primary task performances. A total of 126 undergraduate students performed a complex psychomotor task battery three times, with the number of concurrent tasks increasing each time. During their performance, the students were required to react to an alarm system (including visual and auditory components) of questionable reliability. Depending on the group to which participants were assigned, the alarm presentation rate constituted a low-, medium- or high-workload condition. Alarm response data (times, frequencies, accuracies) and primary task data (tracking error) were analyzed to assess performance differences as a function of primary and secondary task workload levels. Results generally supported the hypotheses: increasing primary task and alarm task workload degraded alarm response performance. Also, response frequencies supported earlier research suggesting that participants 'probability match' their response rates to alarm system reliability. The results are discussed with regard to the cry-wolf effect, attention theory and alarm system design.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Man-Machine Systems*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time
  • Safety*
  • Workload*