Physiological Synchronization in Emergency Response Teams: Subjective Workload, Drivers and Empaths


Behavioral and physiological synchronization have important implications for work teams with regard to workload management, coordinated behavior and overall functioning. This study extended previous work on the nonlinear statistical structure of GSR series in dyads to larger teams and included subjective ratings of workload and contributions to problem solving. Eleven teams of 3 or 4 people played a series of six emergency response (ER) games against a single opponent. Seven of the groups worked under a time pressure instruction at the beginning of the first game. The other four groups were not given that instruction until the beginning of the fourth game. The optimal lag length for the teams, which appeared to be phase-locked, was substantially shorter than that obtained previously for loosely-coupled dyads. There was a complex nonlinear effect from the time pressure manipulation on the autocorrelation over time that reflected workload and fatigue dynamics that were operating. The R2 values for linear and nonlinear statistical models differed by less than.01. The average amount of influence from one ER team member to another was 4.5-4.7% of the variance in GSR readings. ER team members were classified as drivers and empaths, based on the autocorrelations and transfer influences to and from other players in the GSR time series. Empaths were rated by their peers as making more types of positive contributions to the problem solving discussions than others, and drivers received the lowest ratings. Larger Lyapunov exponents that were calculated from the GSR time series were positively correlated with individuals’ ratings of subjective workload and were negatively correlated with leadership indicators. Several directions for further research are outlined.



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Anthony F. Peressini
Marquette University

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