With nearly breakneck speed, the demands of work productivity in today's society seem to have increased tenfold. Enter multitasking as a way to cope with the insistence that tasks be completed almost immediately. Previous studies on workload and productivity include physical aspects, such as how much a person walks or carries, but they do not take into account a person's state of mind. Now, MU College of Engineering researchers have discovered a person's eyes may offer a solution. To do this, they compared data from a workload metric developed by NASA for its astronauts with their observations of pupillary response from participants in a lab study. Using a simulated oil and gas refinery plant control room, researchers watched, through motion-capture and eye-tracking technology, as the participants reacted to unexpected changes, such as alarms, while simultaneously watching the performance of gauges on two monitors.
During the scenario's simple tasks, the participants' eye searching behaviors were more predictable. Yet, as the tasks became more complex and unexpected changes occurred, their eye behaviors became more erratic. Through the use of the data from this lab study by applying a formula applied called fractal dimension, researchers discovered a negative relationship between the fractal dimension of pupil dilation and a person's workload. This showed that pupil dilation could be used to indicate the mental workload of a person in a multitasking environment. Researchers hope this finding can give a better insight into how systems should be designed to avoid mentally overloading workers and build a safer working environment. One day this finding could give employers and educators alike a tool to determine the maximum stress level a person can experience before they become fatigued, and their performance begins to negatively change.