Evaluating organizational response to a cognitive problem: A human factors approach
Serig, Elizabeth May
Laughery, Kenneth R., Sr.
Doctor of Philosophy
The commission of error is often perceived as the result of such internal attributes as negligence, laziness, carelessness, and inattention. In organizational settings, such a perception often leads to the administration of punitive actions against the responsible individual. Recent research on error, however, has moved thinking from a "conventional wisdom" perspective of human error to a systems perspective. According to this systems perspective, humans are remarkably reliable "stand-alone" systems, and errors tend to arise primarily when humans interact with technological systems. Errors can be triggered by technology and its environment, as a result of the way these factors interact and challenge human limitations. Byrne and Bovair (1997) found that the commission of a particular type of error, postcompletion error, is related to a high working memory load imposed by external forces or task complexity. Two experiments were designed to assess the effects of typical organizational responses to error on the commission of postcompletion errors over time. Because organizations tend to assume that errors are under the control of the individual, methods such as reprimands and re-instruction are often administered to "motivate" individuals to not commit errors. Similarly, praise is often administered to encourage the continuation of appropriate behavior. A systems perspective, however, would argue that a troublesome task should be redesigned to accommodate the limitations of the human cognitive system under certain circumstances. The results of the experiments reported here indicated that, over time, simple tasks were learned so well that people made few errors, and therefore, responses to error appeared to have little effect on the commission of error. It was found, however, that when a task was redesigned, participants were much quicker at executing a critical redesigned task step than participants who were reprimanded, received re-instruction, or were praised for their performance. This indicates that the cost of low-error performance for these participants came at the cost of increased time to complete the critical step, further indicating that these participants had to consciously expend effort to not commit the error.
Experimental psychology; Industrial psychology; Cognitive psychology