Learning in automated environments

Is learning responsible for the negative effects of automation in complex environments?

Automating tasks is essential for preventing operators in complex environments – such as air traffic control or production line monitoring – from becoming overloaded. However, there is a dark side to automation, termed automation-induced complacency: automation improves performance generally, but results in worse performance on those tasks that have been automated in cases where they occasionally fail.

Automation-induced complacency is often attributed to factors such as decreased attention or loss of situation awareness.

This project will expand on a theory developed in our lab (Farrell and Lewandowsky, 2000) which treats automation-induced complacency as a consequence of learning: operators learn not to respond to tasks that are under automated control.

The project will test predictions of the learning account of automation-induced complacency, and use the model to inform the development of methods for minimising automation-induced complacency.

The project will involve testing participants in simulated automated environments on a computer. There will also be the opportunity to learn how to simulate models of cognition and performance, and simulate the performance of participants in the experiments.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

Research team leader: Professor Simon Farrell

I completed my BSc (Hons) and PhD in Psychology at UWA. I spent two years as a postdoc in Chicago, working with Roger Ratcliff, before taking up a lectureship at the University of Bristol in 2003. In 2014 I returned to UWA to take up an ARC Future Fellowship.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project include:

  • Programming skills, or familiarity with MATLAB or R, are desirable.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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