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Decision-making and response strategies in interaction with alarms: the impact of alarm reliability, availability of alarm validity information and workload

Manzey, Dietrich; Gérard, Nina; Wiczorek, Rebecca

Responding to alarm systems which usually commit a number of false alarms and/or misses involves decision-making under uncertainty. Four laboratory experiments including a total of n=256 participants were conducted to gain comprehensive insight into humans’ dealing with this uncertainty. Specifically, it was investigated how responses to alarms/nonalarms are affected by the predictive validities of these events, and to what extent response strategies depend on whether or not the validity of alarms/nonalarms can be cross-checked against other data. Among others, the results suggest that, without cross-check possibility (experiment 1), low levels of predictive validity of alarms (≤0.5) led most participants to use one of two different strategies which both involved non-responding to a significant number of alarms (cry-wolf effect). Yet, providing access to alarm validity information reduced this effect dramatically (experiment 2). This latter result emerged independent of the effort needed for cross-checkings of alarms (experiment 3), but was affected by the workload imposed by concurrent tasks (experiment 4). Theoretical and practical consequences of these results for decision-making and response selection in interaction with alarm systems, as well as the design of effective alarm systems are discussed.
Published in: Ergonomics, 10.1080/00140139.2014.957732, Taylor & Francis