Mentally fatigued persons switch to automatic pilot

May 23, 2002

Mentally fatigued trial subjects search less systematically for solutions than fit colleagues. Such fatigued persons switch to an automatic pilot approach even when this repeatedly leads to the same mistakes.

Psychologists from the University of Amsterdam studied how purposefully mentally fatigued persons conducted themselves. Healthy persons and persons made mentally tired were subjected by the scientist to various tests. The tests revealed that fatigued persons had difficulty in translating objectives into the associated actions. The mentally fatigued person was less flexible, more persistent in his behaviour and had a lack of self-regulation.

In one of the tests the trial subjects had to change the layout of a table in the computer programme Excel. The persons had never previously worked with Excel and were given an example of the end result on paper. The persons had to think aloud whilst carrying out the task. Their actions were registered by the computer and recorded on video.

Prior to the test, half of the trial subjects were made mentally tired. They had to draw up schedules for two hours. The other half of the trial subjects was allowed to relax for two hours.

Mentally fatigued persons worked less systematically than non-fatigued persons. They also repeatedly tried the same options, even when it was clear for a long time that this action did not work. Furthermore the fatigued trial subjects guessed more often than their non-fatigued colleagues. The fit trial subjects sought purposefully and quickly learnt from their mistakes.

The mentally fatigued persons also scored less well in two standard psychological tests than the fit persons. For example, fatigued persons needed more time to carry out the first manoeuvre in a mind game. Furthermore, it took them longer to realise that the rules of the game had been surreptitiously changed.

A fourth test investigated whether trial subjects had control over their actions. Fatigued persons were just as good as their fit colleagues at substituting a standard action with an alternative. However, fatigued persons often responded more slowly. This is probably due to so-called 'lapses in control', periods in which the control of ones actions is temporarily non-active. Such periods also occur among fit persons but with a lower frequency.

One of the lessons from this study is that the manufacturers of devices and computer programmes need to make these as logical as possible. Fatigued persons who switch to automatic pilot will then make a minimum of mistakes.
For further information please contact Dr Dimitri van der Linden (University of Amsterdam and now at the Department of Work and Organisational Psychology, University of Nijmegen), tel. +31 (0) 24 3612743, fax +31 (0) 24 3615937, e-mail The defence of the doctoral thesis took place on 15 May 2002. Dr Van der Linden's supervisor was Prof. M. Frese.

The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Related Computer Articles from Brightsurf:

UCLA computer scientists set benchmarks to optimize quantum computer performance
Two UCLA computer scientists have shown that existing compilers, which tell quantum computers how to use their circuits to execute quantum programs, inhibit the computers' ability to achieve optimal performance.

Digitize your dog into a computer game
Researchers from CAMERA at the University of Bath have developed motion capture technology that enables you to digitise your dog without a motion capture suit and using only one camera.

Stabilizing brain-computer interfaces
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) have published research in Nature Biomedical Engineering that will drastically improve brain-computer interfaces and their ability to remain stabilized during use, greatly reducing or potentially eliminating the need to recalibrate these devices during or between experiments.

Computer-generated genomes
Professor Beat Christen, ETH Zurich to speak in the AAAS 2020 session, 'Synthetic Biology: Digital Design of Living Systems.' Christen will describe how computational algorithms paired with chemical DNA synthesis enable digital manufacturing of biological systems up to the size of entire microbial genomes.

Computer-based weather forecast: New algorithm outperforms mainframe computer systems
The exponential growth in computer processing power seen over the past 60 years may soon come to a halt.

A computer that understands how you feel
Neuroscientists have developed a brain-inspired computer system that can look at an image and determine what emotion it evokes in people.

Computer program looks five minutes into the future
Scientists from the University of Bonn have developed software that can look minutes into the future: The program learns the typical sequence of actions, such as cooking, from video sequences.

Computer redesigns enzyme
University of Groningen biotechnologists used a computational method to redesign aspartase and convert it to a catalyst for asymmetric hydroamination reactions.

Mining for gold with a computer
Engineers from Texas A&M University and Virginia Tech report important new insights into nanoporous gold -- a material with growing applications in several areas, including energy storage and biomedical devices -- all without stepping into a lab.

Teaching quantum physics to a computer
An international collaboration led by ETH physicists has used machine learning to teach a computer how to predict the outcomes of quantum experiments.

Read More: Computer News and Computer Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to