Task classification and decision processes in monitoring behaviour

  • R. Parasuraman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Task classification is introduced as a method for the evaluation of monitoring
behaviour in different task situations. On the basis of an analysis of different monitoring tasks, a task classification system comprising four task 'dimensions' is proposed. The perceptual speed and flexibility of closure categories, which are identified with signal discrimination type, comprise the principal dimension in this taxonomy, the others being sense modality, the time course of events, and source
It is also proposed that decision theory provides the most complete method for the analysis of performance in monitoring tasks. Several different aspects of decision theory in relation to monitoring behaviour are described. A method is also outlined whereby both accuracy and latency measures of performance may be analysed within the same decision theory framework.
Eight experiments and an organizational study are reported. The results show that a distinction can be made between the perceptual efficiency (sensitivity) of a monitor and his criterial level of response, and that in most monitoring situations, there is no decrement in efficiency over the work period, but an increase in the strictness of the response criterion. The range of tasks exhibiting either or both of these performance trends can be specified within the task classification system. In particular, it is shown that a sensitivity decrement is only obtained for 'speed' tasks with a high stimulation rate. A distinctive feature of 'speed' tasks is that target detection requires the discrimination of a change in a stimulus relative to preceding stimuli, whereas in 'closure' tasks, the information required for the discrimination of targets is presented at the same point In time. In the final study, the specification of tasks yielding sensitivity decrements is shown to be
consistent with a task classification analysis of the monitoring literature.
It is also demonstrated that the signal type dimension has a major influence on the consistency of individual differences in performance in different tasks. The results provide an empirical validation for the 'speed' and 'closure' categories, and suggest that individual differences are not completely task specific but are dependent on the demands common to different tasks. Task classification is therefore shovn to enable improved generalizations to be made of the factors affecting 1) performance trends over time, and 2) the consistencv of performance in different tasks.
A decision theory analysis of response latencies is shown to support the view that criterion shifts are obtained in some tasks, while sensitivity shifts are obtained in others. The results of a psychophysiological study also suggest that evoked potential latency measures may provide temporal correlates of criterion shifts in monitoring tasks. Among other results, the finding that the latencies of negative responses do not increase over time is taken to invalidate arousal-based theories of performance trends over a work period. An interpretation in terms of
expectancy, however, provides a more reliable explanation of criterion shifts. Although the mechanisms underlying the sensitivity decrement are not completely clear, the results rule out 'unitary' theories such as observing response and coupling theory. It is suggested that an interpretation in terms of the memory data limitations on information processing provides the most parsimonious explanation of all the results in the literature relating to sensitivity decrement.
Task classification therefore enables the refinement and selection of theories of monitoring behaviour in terms of their reliability in generalizing predictions to a wide range of tasks. It is thus concluded that task classification and decision theory provide a reliable basis for the assessment and analysis of monitoring behaviour in different task situations.
Date of AwardApr 1976
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorD. Roy Davies (Supervisor)


  • Task classification
  • decision processes
  • monitoring behaviour

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