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Information, arousal and control in the UK railway industry

Wallace, Brendan and Ross, Alastair and Davies, John Booth and Wright, Linda (2002) Information, arousal and control in the UK railway industry. In: 3rd International Cyberspace Conference on Ergonomics, 2002-09-01 - 2002-09-30.

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This paper explores the results of a focus group study of Scottish train drivers in 2000. Results are studied in terms of arousal theory, especially the 'information-arousal' theory of D.E. Berlyne. This theory states that information can raise arousal and that operators will tend to attempt to attain their 'optimal arousal' point. Therefore if the information available to operators is too 'monotonous' they will attempt to seek out and gain different, 'arousing' information: in other words they will become bored and will seek out additional stimulus. It was discovered that train drivers did indeed claim that driving similar routes and being in the same informational environment did lead to errors of concentration and error. It was also found that drivers claimed that they deliberately increased their risky behaviour (by, for example, 'chasing signals'), in order to mitigate boredom. It is shown how Berlyne's theories can account for these findings. Finally the implications for ergonomics are discussed. It is proposed that drivers need to be in control of their information flow in order to maintain arousal and that, for example, the installation of devices on which music could be played might facilitate this.