Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Mark W. Scerbo

Committee Member

Poornima Madhavan

Committee Member

Ivan Ash

Committee Member

William Helton


Workload transitions are situations where operators are suddenly confronted with levels of workload substantially different from previously established levels. Workload transitions may affect the operators' state of stress and coping behaviors but previous research has not conclusively demonstrated the nature of those. The first goal of the current work was to investigate the discrepant findings of the previous literature. Two experiments were conducted where participants were asked to perform a digit detection task that suddenly shifted between low and high event rates (i.e., low and high workload, respectively). The first experiment used a large magnitude transition that resulted in a decrease in reported levels of task engagement and effort. Over time, the reported stress and workload ratings of the transitioned groups approached the nontransitioned control groups. A second experiment was conducted using a moderate magnitude transition. This second experiment replicated the findings from the first experiment, with the key difference being that the transition from a low to more a more moderate level of workload resulted in higher, sustained task engagement and effort. Two main conclusions are drawn from these results. First, over time the stress and workload levels of individuals who experience a transition will approach those reported by nontransitioned individuals. Future workload transition research must therefore consider the effect of the time from transition. Second, the magnitude of the transition may influence the coping response such that a moderate transition may result in increased task-oriented, effortful coping whereas a large magnitude transition may result in decreased effortful coping.


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