Situation Awareness Recovery

Gartenberg, D., Breslow, L., McCurry, J. M., & Trafton, G. (2014). Situation awareness recovery. Human Factors, 56(4), 710-727.


We describe a novel concept, situation awareness recovery (SAR), and we identify perceptual and cognitive processes that characterize SAR.  Situation awareness (SA) is typically described in terms of perceiving relevant elements of the environment, comprehending how those elements are integrated into a meaningful whole, and projecting that meaning into the future. Yet SA fluctuates during the time course of a task, making it important to understand the process by which SA is recovered after it is degraded.  We investigated SAR using different types of interruptions to degrade SA. In Experiment 1, participants watched short videos of an operator performing a supervisory control task, and then the participants were either interrupted or not interrupted, after which SA was assessed using a questionnaire. In Experiment 2, participants performed a supervisory control task in which they guided vehicles to their respective targets and either experienced an interruption, during which they performed a visual search task in a different panel, or were not interrupted.  The SAR processes we identified included shorter fixation durations, increased number of objects scanned, longer resumption lags, and a greater likelihood of refixating on objects that were previously looked at.  We interpret these findings in terms of the memory-for-goals model, which suggests that SAR consists of increased scanning in order to compensate for decay, and previously viewed cues act as associative primes that reactivate memory traces of goals and plans.