NASA Team Task Switching

Team Task Switching in Astronaut Crews on the International Space Station: Integrating Multiteam Membership, Multiteam Systems, Multitasking, & Multidimensional Networks to Monitor & Enable Functional Work Shifts in Astronaut Crews

Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Award number NNX15AK73G.

We are at the dawn of a new era of human space exploration. Moving beyond low Earth orbit and the relative safety of the International Space Station toward near-Earth asteroids and Mars present previously unimaginable opportunities as well as organizational challenges. One significant challenge is the complexity of the operating environment within which astronauts will work. This complexity will place enormous demands on astronauts, and research is needed that develops concrete countermeasures to mitigate the risks stemming from performance decrements due to inadequate cooperation, coordination, communication, and psychosocial adaptation within a team. Astronauts will push the bounds of human cognitive and social functioning as they multitask across tasks, teams, and tools working toward personal, team, and system goals. This multidisciplinary research project is designed to help them do just that.

Taskswitching graphic-01-01

This three-year programmatic investigation into team task switching leverages:

(1) Agent-based models to understand how task switching behavior and performance-related switching costs occur based on dynamic interplay between independent and interdependent tasks

(2) Laboratory experiments conducted in two multiteam systems laboratories (one at Georgia Tech, the other at Northwestern) to test the theoretical model derived from agent-based models

(3) Unobtrusive data collection strategies to capture information on the tasks and complex social network structures of ISS crew members

(4) Design of interventions to enable adaptive team task switches using virtual experiments

(5) Validation of intervention strategies using one of NASA’s space analogs

(6) Development of a dashboard decision aid to anticipate and pre-empt dysfunctional task switching

An innovative feature of our investigation is the use of a multidimensional network approach to characterize and model the switches between tasks, tools, teams and multi-team systems. The combined outputs of this multi-disciplinary project speak directly to NASA HRP’s identified team gaps for autonomous, long duration, and/or long distance exploration missions associated with the need to identify:

(1) Key threats to the team (Team Gap 1),

(2) Countermeasures to support team function (Team Gap 3)

(3) Validated methods that can be used to maintain team function (Team Gap 5)

(4) Psychological and psychosocial factors, measures, and combinations thereof that can be used to compose highly effective crews (Team Gap 8)


Publications and Presentations:

Park, P., DeChurch, L.A., Contractor, N.S. (January, 2017). Understanding elective task switching. Poster presented at the NASA Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop, Galveston, TX.

DeChurch, L.A., Plummer, G., Contractor, N.S, & Mesmer-Magnus, J.R. (January, 2017). The costs of switching between team and multiteam tasks and the role of shared cognition. Poster presented at NASA 2017 Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop, Galveston, TX.

McDonald, J.D., LoPilato, A.C., Thomas, R.P., DeChurch, L.A., & Contractor, N.S. (April, 2016). What makes teamwork attractive? A policy capturing study. Paper presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA.

McDonald. J. D., DeChurch, L.A., (2016, April). What makes teamwork attractive? A policy capturing study to identify influential social factors in team task switching. In McDonald, J. D., Jones, B. R., and Contractor, N. S. (co-chairs), The Many “I”s of a Team: Person Centric Perspectives on Teams. Symposium conducted at the 31st Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Anaheim, CA.

DeChurch, L.A., Contractor, N.S., Mesmer-Magnus, J.R., McDonald, J.D., & Hernandez, I. (February, 2016). Team Task switching in astronaut crews on the International Space Station: Integrating multiteam membership, multiteam systems, multitasking and multidimensional networks to monitor and enable functional work shifts in astronaut crews. Poster presented at Poster presented at NASA 2017 Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop, Galveston, TX.

McDonald, J. D., DeChurch, L. A., Asencio, R., Carter, D. R., Mesmer-Magnus, J. R., & Contractor, N. S. (October, 2015). Team task switching: A conceptual framework for understanding functional work shifts. Proceedings of the International Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Los Angeles, CA.



Leslie DeChurch (PI), Noshir Contractor

SONIC Team Members:

Alina Lungeanu