New eye-tracking technology could help companies reduce the rate of worker error. (Photo courtesy of the University of Missouri)
AS OVERWORKED EMPLOYEES turn to multitasking, how will managers know if workers are too overwhelmed to be effective? Xiaonan Yang, a PhD candidate in industrial engineering at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and Jung Hyup Kim, an assistant professor in the department of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at the school, have developed eye-tracking technology that indicates an individual’s state of mental well-being by measuring pupil size. The researchers created the technology to measure the stress of workers as the workers simultaneously perform low- and high-complexity tasks.
Yang and Kim accessed data derived from a workload metric NASA developed for its astronauts, and they compared it to information they gathered in a lab study. For the study, participants were placed in a simulated oil and gas refinery plant control room, where they watched the performance of gauges on two monitors. The participants were occasionally subjected to unexpected changes, such as alarms.
During simple tasks, participants’ eye searching behaviors were fairly predictable. But when tasks became complex and when sudden changes occurred, their eye behaviors became more erratic. Kim and Yang also used fractal dimension, a ratio that indicates complexity in a changing pattern, to learn that there was a negative relationship between pupil dilation and a person’s workload.
These findings could help employers and educators understand how much stress individuals can experience before fatigue causes their performance to deteriorate, says Kim. “When you’re tired, you often make a mistake,” he adds. “If we can monitor a worker’s mental well-being, then we can hopefully prevent future mistakes from happening.”