The effects of workload transitions in a multitasking environment

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in General Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: F. Thomas Eggemeier


Previous research has found that performance is sometimes affected by transitions in workload. For some tasks and occupations, this type of change in demand can severely impact performance, which makes this a topic of interest for further research. The previous research conducted used a variety of tasks and methods, but few of the results obtained have been consistent. This study sought to determine the effect of workload transitions in a multi-tasking environment, which is an under-represented area in research on this topic. The use of subjective questionnaires to assess perceived workload and task-related stress has also been limited in previous research. Therefore, this study used the Air Force Multi-Attribute Task Battery (AF-MATB), which is a multi-tasking environment, the NASA Task Load Index, which is a measure of subjective workload, and the shortened Dundee Stress State Questionnaire, which a subjective measure of task-related stress. During testing, all participants completed AF-MATB trials that transitioned from an easy level to a difficult level or from a difficult level to an easy level. Also, they all completed easy and difficult control trials. Analyses of the performance data principally supported the success of the task difficulty manipulation, with significant differences only occurring between the easy and difficult portions of trials. However, the results of several AF-MATB subtasks indicated that the transition in task difficulty from difficult to easy had a negative impact on performance compared to performance in the easy control condition. The significant differences in two of these performance measures, however, may reflect trends in the data of the easy control condition as opposed to transition-related decrements in the difficult-easy condition, thereby making conclusions about the presence of transition effects in these instances somewhat difficult. The analysis of both the NASA Task Load Index and of the shortened Dundee State Questionnaire did not reveal any significant differences related to workload transition.


Employees Workload, Workflow, Human multitasking, Performance Psychological aspects, Experimental psychology; psychology; workload transitions; hysteresis, Multi-Attribute Task Battery; MATB; Air Force Multi-Attribute Task Battery; AF-MATB

Rights Statement

Copyright 2013, author