FSU opens human performance laboratory

Florida State University has just opened a new laboratory designed to study how well people perform their jobs while under stress.

The new lab, funded by a congressional award in partnership with the Office of Naval Research, will examine such questions as: How can first responders be better trained to respond correctly during a terrorist attack or other major catastrophe? How does a Navy pilot maintain his or her situation awareness while flying under the threat of fire? How can a kicker in football be better trained to make the crucial final minute kick, or quarterback throw the crucial pass milliseconds before getting sacked?

Research conducted at the Human Performance Laboratory, housed in the Learning Systems Institute at Innovation Park, is mapping out the best way to educate and train people who have to perform difficult tasks under stress.

Key faculty include psychologists David Eccles, Anders Ericsson and Paul Ward, who have studied Naval combat pilots, world class musicians, grand master chess players, NFL football and European League soccer players, SWAT team officers, Olympic athletes and other groups.

Their studies include simulations of stressful events that make use of large-screen video displays, which create realistic situations for the participants. Researchers take measurements from participants that include reaction time, eye and body movements, and heart rate, perspiration and blood pressure changes.

Researchers also ask participants to think their thoughts out loud as they perform, which helps determine the thought processes that underlie expert performance.

The current research at the Human Performance Laboratory focuses on the structure and acquisition of skilled and expert performance in military, law enforcement, emergency medicine and sports domains.