Decision making is a core cognitive process of human behaviour that is often affected by stress. Whilst we make several decisions on a daily basis, firefighters, in particular, are called to make important decisions in a split second and within life-threatening settings. Stress can therefore impact their ability to perform and carry out their job. The implications of stress are similarly important in other settings requiring high-vigilance.
Research has shown that there is an association between stress and decision making, which is often of a negative nature. Stress can have a negative impact on situations of vigilance such as natural disasters, fire or war which can be life threatening, as they require a person to make decisions in quick succession to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences. However, enabling individuals to prepare themselves for how to make the right decision in stressful scenarios is an ongoing area of research. What sets apart veterans from novices, and the reason field experience is so important in such situations, is having experienced the real high stress situations which are not easy to recreate in a training environment.
Our research led to designing a serious game, eXtricate, which maps vigilance stressor to game stressors in order to simulate a stressful situation for participants. Vigilance stressors include fatigue, sleep deprivation, time pressure, workload, heat, noise, and sensory (visual and auditory) overload. The chosen scenario for eXtricate is to help evacuate a number of civilians from a burning building. The participants are unable to move without a player's assistance.
The goal of the game is to train the firefighters in making decisions under stress. This goal has been implemented using an evacuation mechanic, where a player is required to evacuate victims from a burning building. Vigilance stressors are implemented both in the story and the aesthetics of the game.
Participants' decision making performance improved through repetitive exposure to the game scenario which is in line with past research discussing that stressors that are repeated have been associated with changes in the decision making-related brain region.
This research has revealed that familiarity with the search area (e.g. layout of a building) is an important consideration to participants and could be a particularly helpful finding for firefighters when making rescue decisions. This is in line with previous research showing that exposure to such stressors and changes in the surroundings could lead to firefighter disorientation and inability to perform tasks.
Potential applications of these findings include the design and implementation of informed interventions for monitoring of emergency personnel stress and decision making, as well as the improvement of communication methods used in emergency situations which can be affected due to the aforementioned factors. We also found that simulating decision making stressors through a game could be facilitated through certain game mechanics which have shown to be effective for both inducing stress, as well as for helping to improve decision making performance for participants. The findings can be of particular importance to practitioners developing games for future similar efforts.
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Project last modified 20/04/2022