Out of the Loop, in Your Bubble

September 20, 2018
Arnaud Delorme, PhD

Mind Wandering Is Independent From Automation Reliability, but Influences Task Engagement

Gouraud, J., Delorme, A., Berberian, B. (2018) Out of the Loop, in Your Bubble: Mind Wandering Is Independent From Automation Reliability, but Influences Task Engagement. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 20 September 2018.


This study examined the influence of automation reliability on task-unrelated mind wandering (MW) frequency and the impact of MW on task engagement. Automated environment features make it particularly prone to increase MW frequency. Through mechanisms like complacency or agency, automating a task could increase MW frequency for the operator. For safety-critical industries, the lower perception and degraded stimuli processing associated with MW, summarized by the term “decoupling hypothesis,” are particularly concerning. Sixteen participants supervised an autopilot avoiding obstacles with two levels of reliability. Each condition lasted 45 min. We recorded thoughts as either pertaining to being focused, task-related MW or task-unrelated MW. We also recorded perceived mental demand, trust regarding the autopilot and oculometric measures. Based on questionnaire results, our protocol succeeded in inducing more mental demand and lower trust when the automation was unreliable. Attentional states were not correlated, nor did it influence trust in the system reliability. On the contrary, mental demand ratings and pupil diameter were lower during both task-related and task-unrelated MW, compared to those during the focus attentional state. This shows that perceptual decoupling also affects the engagement of operators in automated environments, which may dramatically lower their ability to supervise automation efficiently. This research informs human-automation designers to consider operator engagement when creating automated systems.

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