Psychophysiological responses to changes in workload during simulated air traffic control

Biol Psychol. 1996 Feb 5;42(3):361-77. doi: 10.1016/0301-0511(95)05167-8.


In this investigation, eight Air Force air traffic controllers (ATCs) performed three scenarios on TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control), a computer-based air traffic control (ATC) simulation. Two scenarios were used each with three levels of difficulty. One scenario varied traffic volume by manipulating the number of aircraft to be handled and the second scenario varied traffic complexity by manipulating arriving to departing flight ratios, pilot skill and mixture of aircraft types. A third scenario, overload, required subjects to handle a larger number of aircraft in a limited amount of time. The effects of the manipulations on controller workload were assessed using performance, subjective (TLX), and physiological (EEG, eye blink, heart rate, respiration, saccade) measures. Significant main effects of difficulty level were found for TRACON performance, TLX, eye blink, respiration and EEG measures. Only the EEG was associated with main effects for the type of traffic. The results provide support for the differential sensitivity of a variety of workload measures in complex tasks, underscore the importance of traffic complexity in ATC workload, and support the utility of TRACON as a tool for studies of ATC workload.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerospace Medicine
  • Aircraft*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Blinking / physiology
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Respiration / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Workload / psychology*