Improving Visual Information Search in Emergencies through Using Cognitive Theory in Design

Emil Andersen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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In emergencies, fast and accurate decision making is essential for avoiding adverse effects. Optimal performance hinges on the ability of operators to retrieve the information they need from their surroundings and to translate this information into action. However, in the stressful and complex environment of an emergency, performance can be compromised if search for information is slowed or hindered by few or inadequate visual aids and guides. The present thesis represents an effort towards using cognitive theory to improve search for information through better visual design. The research conducted has as its basis that findings, and in some cases methodology, from highly controlled experiments from cognitive science are translated through literature review and original research to guidelines and concrete suggestions to be used by visual display and procedure designers in the real world. In total, six papers are presented. The first paper reviews the literature in the field of design research pertaining to human behaviour, establishing the benefits of cognitive theory and methodology in design research. Papers two through five investigate, through literature review and original experiments, how findings from the field of experimental psychology on attention could be applied. In particular, the effect on attention of specific colours, cognitive and visual load, visual dilution, and distracting stimuli were investigated. The main findings were that specific colours have different effects on attention allocation, especially under higher visual load, and that the Feature Integration Theory of Treisman and Gelade was particularly successful in generalising its
predictions to a more applied context. Paper six investigates, through literature review and reanalysis of behavioural patterns of active, experienced nuclear control room operators in a realistic nuclear power plant emergency scenario, whether literature from the decision making sciences can predict the behavioural biases of operators and whether such biases could be alleviated through design. It was found that variance in operator performance could in part have been explained caused by confirmation bias and the bias of misapplied expertise, which could potentially be used as the basis for interventions in procedure design. Taken together, the research contributes novel findings to both design research and experimental psychology, and offers suggestions for how the findings can be applied to improve visual search in emergencies.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKgs. Lyngby
PublisherTechnical University of Denmark
Number of pages173
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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