Human Performance in a Realistic Instrument-Control Task during Short-Term Microgravity

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Previous studies have documented the detrimental effects of microgravity on human sensorimotor skills. While that work dealt with simple, laboratory-type skills, we now evaluate the effects of microgravity on a complex, realistic instrument-control skill. Twelve participants controlled a simulated power plant during the short-term microgravity intervals of parabolic flight as well as during level flight. To this end they watched multiple displays, made strategic decisions and used multiple actuators to maximize their virtual earnings from the power plant. We quantified control efficiency as the participants’ net earnings (revenue minus expenses), motor performance as hand kinematics and dynamics, and stress as cortisol level, self-assessed mood and self-assessed workload. We found that compared to normal gravity, control efficiency substantially decreased in microgravity, hand velocity slowed down, and cortisol level and perceived physical strain increased, but other stress and motor scores didn’t change. Furthermore, control efficiency was not correlated with motor and stress scores. From this we conclude that realistic instrument control was degraded in short-term microgravity. This degradation can’t be explained by the motor and/or stress indicators under study, and microgravity affected motor performance differently in our complex, realistic skill than in the simple, laboratory-type skills of earlier studies.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0128992
JournalPloS one
Volume10
Issue number6
Number of pages11
ISSN1932-6203
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17.07.2015

ID: 1757707

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