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Automation Trust Research Nets Winning Paper for Spain, Bliss

Spain (left) and Bliss

If soldiers were offered an automated enemy-detection system to help identify targets, would they trust it enough to use it?

Former Old Dominion University graduate student Randall Spain, working together with James Bliss, associate professor of psychology, conducted research on confidence and trust behaviors during the use of automation expertise for weapons systems, and the results were award-winning.

For the research, Spain devised a simulated military-target detection scenario. In the experimental evaluation, he included two levels of automation expertise, expert and novice; four levels of system confidence, 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent, and none; and two levels of image quality, high and low.

Test participants were required to identify visually degraded targets presented within a group of distractors. Spain and Bliss, who was the student's doctoral adviser, tested 41 participants in a controlled laboratory setting.

Spain concluded that participants were more likely to comply with the expert aid rather than the novice aid because of the level of proficiency offered. As he explained, "The extent to which an operator trusts automation is a significant determinant in the success of the human-machine team."

In addition, there appeared to be a cost associated with system confidence: study participants were more likely to confirm targets falsely identified by the "expert" system.

Such findings are important for the military because soldiers often must rely on automated assistance to complete difficult tasks like target detection. Trust in such aids, stemming from prior experiences or discussions with other users, often combines with perceptions of aid expertise to shape user compliance and reliance, Bliss said.

When asked what influenced him to study the effects of automation expertise, Spain answered, "My interest in 'trust in automation' stems from my previous research…and my interest in the increasing role automation plays in safety critical domains such as the military, aviation and nuclear power."

The paper by Spain and Bliss revealing the research findings was judged this summer to be third best in the nation by the Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making Technical Group of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Bliss said graduate students in psychology often achieve such recognition. Brittany Anderson, advised by Professor Mark Scerbo, and Jeremy Brown, advised by Assistant Professor Poornima Madhavan, have received recent awards from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Chris Platsoucas, dean of the College of Sciences, sent a note to Spain offering congratulations "on your success in receiving this award from the major society in your field." The dean added, "We are all proud when our graduate students and faculty members win recognition such as this."

Spain received his Ph.D. in human factors psychology from ODU in May. He now works for the Army Research Institute in Orlando, Fla.

This article was posted on: September 30, 2009

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