Dissociation Between Mental Workload, Performance, and Task Awareness in Pilots of High Performance Aircraft

Heikki Petteri Mansikka, Kai Virtanen, Don Harris

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)
    147 Downloads (Pure)


    The purpose of this study was to demonstrate how the inclusion of a tactical task goal awareness measure complemented mental workload and performance measures in a simulated air combat mission. It was hypothesized that the evaluation of the tactical task goal awareness could provide additional information concerning the cognitive demands a pilot is exposed to during a complex air combat task. A test setting was developed to test this hypothesis in a virtual flight training device. To highlight the impact of task complexity, high performance aircraft pilots’ heart rate (HR), interbeat-interval (IBI), and performance in two simple flying tasks were first compared. Then, a similar comparison, complemented with the tactical task goal awareness measure, was made with two complex flying tasks. It was found that when the pilot's awareness of the tactical goals was low, a combination of low performance and low mental workload occurred. It was concluded that when the pilots’ performance is evaluated on a complex air combat task, the awareness of the tactical goals, performance, and mental workload should be studied together as the pilot's awareness can explain some of HR/IBI responses that could be otherwise misinterpreted. More generally, mental workload, performance, and task goal awareness should all be considered when the operator's performance in any complex human–machine system is assessed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number8506440
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalIEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems
    Issue number1
    Early online date24 Oct 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

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    • Aerospace simulation
    • air combat
    • mental workload (MWL)
    • system performance
    • task goal awareness

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Human Factors and Ergonomics
    • Control and Systems Engineering
    • Signal Processing
    • Human-Computer Interaction
    • Computer Science Applications
    • Computer Networks and Communications
    • Artificial Intelligence


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