Multitasking -- Establishing Mental Workload Limitations


As the amount of technology involved in the typical workplace increases and standard operational procedures become increasingly sophisticated, the danger of overloading an operator's mental resources is increasingly critical. Mental workload is commonly associated with information processing tasks, thus, any activity requires mental workload (Nachreiner, 1995). The optimization of workload is very critical as it directly affects system performance. This paper focuses on the workload on visual and cognitive resources using the Wickens' (1991) multiple resource theory (MRT). Wickens' multiple resource theory proposes different resources for performing tasks and limited capacity for processing information. This paper describes a study where subjects were asked to perform two tasks at the same time and the performance decrement in one or both tasks was analyzed. The experiments use the Lafayette's Multichoice Reaction Timer and CogniPlus software to identify different visual and auditory stimulus in five different difficulty levels. The paper concludes with recommendations for engineering managers to consider when designing tasks or systems that require operators to multitask.

Meeting Name

30th Annual National Conference of the American Society for Engineering Management (2009: Oct. 14-17; Springfield, MO)


Engineering Management and Systems Engineering

Second Department

Psychological Science

Keywords and Phrases

Auditory stimuli; Cognitive resources; Engineering managers; Limited capacity; Mental workload; Multi choices; Multiple resources; Operational procedures; Engineering; Industrial engineering; Data processing

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)


Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


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© 2009 American Society for Engineering Management, All rights reserved.

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