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Activity title

Measuring the Cognitive Load on the Soldier

Activity Reference



Human Factors and Medicine

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Activity type


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cognitive load, measurement, mental workload, Soldier


This proposed activity follows on from HFM-ET-181. The cognitive performance of the soldier is a critical component of military operations. Success in modern warfighting requires the integration of information collected from multiple sensors in complex scenarios. NATO nations are employing new methods for collecting (e.g., body worn sensors) and presenting data (mobile devices, body-worn display, battle management systems), potentially increasing the amount of information to the soldier. The less-than-perfect reliability of automated and autonomous systems increases the soldier’s uncertainty about ground truth, which also potentially increases cognitive load. A validated set of cognitive load measures for soldiers is necessary. There are a number of traditional methods for measuring cognitive load (e.g., output of NATO HFM 121), which are generally effective in seated laboratory environments, but the problem of how to measure cognitive load for the dismounted soldier is more challenging. There is a need to improve the understanding and measurement of the soldier’s cognitive load with a view to developing a coherent and consistent approach to its assessment, as well as its relation to cognitive performance more generally. The output (including scenarios) from NATO HFM 238 on “Reducing the dismounted soldier’s burden”--which focuses on the physical aspects of human activity--should be considered in order to take a systems approach.


The primary aim is to establish a NATO consensus on a set of strategies to measure soldier cognitive load and determine its effects on the soldier’s effectiveness. Based on experimental activities in laboratory and field settings across the participating nations, we seek to develop, test, and validate a set of cognitive load measurement systems. From this, we plan to produce a tool called CLONES (Cognitive Load of the Network-Enabled soldier) to provide guidance about cognitive load measurement for system acquisition, design, test and evaluation, and mission rehearsal across a range of scenarios.


The scope of the work to be conducted through the RTG includes: • Providing a definition of “cognitive load” that is relevant to a soldier’s tasks and the measurement of cognitive load in relevant operational scenarios. Current definitions and measurements do not focus upon the dismounted soldier. • Identifying tactical or operational scenarios where cognitive overload of the dismounted soldier is a risk. These scenarios will be beneficial for developing a collaborative framework for the research activities under the RTG. • Outlining existing tools and methods that could be used to assess the cognitive load of the soldier, (i.e. subjective measures, physiological measures, and performance outcomes). Previous reviews in this area were carried out some time ago and recent technological developments mean they are now out of date. • Critically evaluating the existing evidence for the reliability and validity of these measures when assessing a dismounted soldier. There are currently well-established methods for assessing workload in a seated or static individual; however a number of these methods may not be feasible, and ecologically valid, for use when assessing an active dismounted soldier. • Conducting collaborative research to evaluate combinations of different measures and investigating correlations, dissociations and predictive validity in terms of performance. This research could include investigating the interaction between cognitive and physical performance and/or workload. • Assessing the ability of these measures to provide useful information during system design and the acquisition process, to optimise cognitive performance.

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