Understanding Situational Awareness: Concepts, Methods, and Training

Lisa B. Shrestha, Carolyn Prince, David P. Baker (AIR), Eduardo Salas

Although there have been problems and concerns with situation awareness in the past, as more highly complex avionics systems are developed, the need to understand and effectively deal with situation awareness will become even more important. With increasing aircraft speeds and weapon capabilities, future aircrews will be required to process and respond to incoming information even more rapidly that at present in order to meet mission goals. The importance of understanding situation awareness in complex environments is not just limited to the aviation community. Other critical areas (e.g., police, fire, and medical units, military combat information centers, process control systems, manufacturing environments, etc.) require individuals to maintain adequate situation awareness in a fairly demanding, technical setting for effective performance as well and, therefore, also are of interest. Aircrews, in addition to those working in complex sociotechnical situations, will consequently need to be trained in situation awareness so that they can keep pace with the demands that advances in technology impose on both individual members as well as the team as a whole. However, in order to train individuals in situation awareness, the concept must first be understood, and the behaviors necessary to enhance situation awareness must be identified.

To respond to the growing need to understand this concept better, this chapter focuses on several aspects of situation awareness. The operationalization and the appropriate measurement of the construct has implications for the establishment of sound experimental methodologies to identify the critical components of situation awareness, determine its relationship with performance, and explore the critical moderators (e.g., cognitive abilities, motivational states, technological advances) that can potential affect this relationship. The objectives of this effort are to review and synthesize the relevant literature on situation awareness, including various descriptions of what constitutes situation awareness and the background information on the cognitive variables that underlie this construct. In addition, the various ways that situation awareness has been measured are discussed. Recommendations are made for research that will help provide information needed for training situation awareness. Based on existing research and theory, recommendations for training situation awareness are also made.