Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Mark W. Scerbo

Committee Member

James P. Bliss

Committee Member

Ivan K. Ash

Committee Member

Dana E. Ramirez

Committee Member

Ginger S. Watson-Papelis


The goal of the present study was to examine the effects of mental models and expertise on the ability to process handoffs of information. In addition, the role of active or passive processing was examined. Three groups of participants participated, differing in their level of clinical expertise to represent a novice, intermediate, and expert population. Participants performed an abstract running memory span task and two tasks resembling real world activities, an air traffic control (ATC) handoff task, and a clinical handoff task. For all tasks list length and the amount of information to be recalled was manipulated. Further, in the ATC and the clinical handoff tasks, information was presented in an organized or unorganized sequence. Recall scores decreased as list length increased on all tasks. Regarding processing strategy, all participants used passive processing for the running memory span and ATC tasks. The novices also used passive processing for the clinical task. The experts, however, appeared to use more active processing as they recalled more relevant than irrelevant items. Irrelevant information negatively impacted all participants, resulting in lower handoff scores and decreased recall of relevant items. Regarding organization, experts had lower handoff scores for the clinical unorganized lists while intermediates and novices were not significantly affected. There was no effect of organization on the groups for the ATC task. Overall, the results indicated that individuals with clinical expertise and a developed mental model rely more on active processing of incoming information while individuals with little or no knowledge rely on passive processing. Further, presenting irrelevant information and unorganized information incongruent with a developed mental model can negatively impact performance.


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