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Effects Of Stress On Performance In A Dominant And Non-dominant Task

Report Number: WADC TR 54-285
Author: Simon, Charles W.
Corporate Author: Antioch College
Laboratory: Aero Medical Laboratory
Date of Publication: 1954-06
Pages: 45
PB Number: PB117359
AD Number: AD0053977

Considerable research has been expended to discover instrument designs requiring for their successful operation a response pattern used most frequently by the majority of the population. Substituting such designs, for others on which operators apparently perform at a comparable level only after extensive training, has usually been justified by the hypothesis that under stress, operator performance tends to retrogress less when dominant response patterns are required. The hypothesis was tested in the experiment reported here.

Eighty male college students were divided into four equal groups. One group practiced for 96 trials on a "dominant" task; the remaining groups practiced for 96 trials a day for one, two, or three days respectively on a "nondominant" task. The task -- proper positioning of a light in the arc of lights by turning a rotary knob -- was termed "dominant" when a clockwise movement of the knob moved the light counterclockwise. Following the practice session, an experimental stress period was introduced. One half of each group worked under mildly stressful conditions in which they were required to perform a compensatory pursuit task while simultaneously solving simple arithmetical problems.

Stress as defined abover resulted in more reversal errors for subjects performing on the originally dominant one, although both groups had practiced to an apparently equal performance level previously. Response time and individual response time variability, only indirectly related to the original dominance measure, reflected this tendency under mild stress only, while overshoot errors showed no differential effects of stress. Additional practice on the nondominant task was insufficient in this experiment to decrease the disruptive effects of stress on performance. The results are discussed in terms of current learning theory. The concept of "dominance" was more precisely defined.

Hunt Library, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
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