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Grace under pressure: FSU researchers analyze the effects of stress on decision-making ability

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A nursing student assigned to check a heart patient's vital statistics enters the patient's room. Suddenly, the patient stops breathing and exhibits an erratic heartbeat. What steps must the nursing student take to ensure that the patient doesn't die before a better-trained medical professional can arrive?

Fortunately, in this instance the emergency was merely a simulation. The "patient" -- a blinking, breathing and fairly lifelike mannequin named "Bob" -- spends his days (and nights) in a hospital bed located in the Human Performance Laboratory at Florida State University's Learning Systems Institute. Bob's job -- and that of researchers who comprise the lab's Expert Performance Research Team -- is to determine how stress affects the decision-making ability of people who work in professions in which a split-second judgment can spell the difference between life and death for themselves or others.

"By measuring the performance of people with varying levels of expertise, we are able to develop a better sense of how a person with a high level of expertise is able to excel under stressful conditions that might paralyze a novice," said David W. Eccles, an FSU assistant professor and research-team member who serves on the faculty of both the Learning Systems Institute and the College of Education. "Over time, this will help us to develop new training protocols that better prepare people to make critical decisions while under duress."

The medical simulation room is just one of several state-of-the-art apparatuses used to gauge performance levels in various professions at the Human Performance Lab. In an adjacent room, a theater-size movie screen is used to assess the reactions of law-enforcement professionals as they are exposed to scenarios that may or may not require them to draw and fire their (simulated) weapons. Other research involves testing the reactions of athletes as they react to situations that they ar
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1-Nov-2006


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