Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can nonconscious goals improve performance in safety-critical domains?

There is a plethora of research that shows that activation of the mental representation of a construct can lead to behavior that is congruent with the construct. The following studies in social psychology demonstrate this:

Note that in these experiments, participants are not consciously aware of the prime and are unaware of the behavior that is caused as a result of it.

Now, why does this happen?

Do these studies have implications for safety-critical domains? Will priming airport baggage-screeners with achievement goals improve their detection of threats? Will priming air traffic controllers with high performance goals improve collision detection performance of air traffic controllers when a collision detection aid fails?

Now how is this different from just evoking conscious goals (i.e., telling the operators to do a good job)? There is evidence that nonconscious, automatic goal pursuit has an advantage over conscious goal pursuit – the latter requires additional cognitive resources which is a limited commodity in complex job situations.

Photo credit Chrisrobertsantieau via Wikimedia Commons.

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