Situational Understanding, Workload, and Congruence With the Commander's Mental Model

Report No. ARL-TN-0236
Authors: Bruce S. Sterling and Chuck H. Perala
Date/Pages: February 2005; 20 pages
Abstract: For the U.S. Army future force, it will be particularly important to see first, understand first, and act first. In order to do this, collaborative planning and execution are necessary. These are enabled, in part, by a shared mental model of the situation. Using a technique established by Entin and Entin (2001), we examined the relationship between discrepancies with the commander's mental model and participants' ratings of their own frustration, workload, effectiveness and situational understanding (SU). We found that the greater the discrepancy with the commander's mental model, the higher the participants rated their own frustration, and the lower the participants rated their own workload, effectiveness, and SU. The findings concerning frustration, effectiveness, and SU are explained as suggesting that those who did not have a good mental model with the commander were consequently more frustrated at their jobs, less effective, and had lower SU of the situation. The finding of greater discrepancy being associated with lower workloads was explained as a result of those who did not "have their heads in the game" (high discrepancy with the commander's mental model), being unable to provide products, information, or actions to the commander (low workload). Correlations between discrepancies in mental model and frustration, workload, SU, and effectiveness are higher during low workload and low SU. Overall, these results suggest a link between shared mental models with the commander and team performance, since performance has been consistently linked to constructs such as workload, self-efficacy, and affect. Results further emphasize the need for validated measures of mental model congruence to assess the effectiveness of changes in doctrine, organization, and materiel anticipated in the future force. Also, further research is indicated to delineate critical components of shared understanding and their impact on decision making per se, that is, what kinds of decisions are most affected and what types of errors are most likely to arise? Finally, research should assist in the development of methods to improve shared mental models.
Distribution: Approved for public release
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Last Update / Reviewed: February 1, 2005