CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science (CISD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Maxine S Cohen

Committee Member

Sumitra Mukherjee

Committee Member

William M Garrabrants


Uncertainty is inherent in many real-world settings; for example, in a combat situation, darkness may prevent a soldier from classifying approaching troops as friendly or hostile. In an environment plagued with uncertainty, decision-support systems, such as sensor-based networks, may make faulty assumptions about field conditions, especially when information is incomplete, or sensor operations are disrupted. Displaying the factors that contribute to uncertainty informs the decision-making process for a human operator, but at the expense of limited cognitive resources, such as attention, memory, and workload.

This research applied principles of perceptual cognition to human-computer interface design to introduce uncertainty visualizations in an adaptive approach that improved the operator's decision-making process, without unduly burdening the operator's cognitive load. An adaptive approach to uncertainty visualization considers the cognitive burden of all visualizations, and reduces the visualizations according to relevancy as the user's cognitive load increases. Experiments were performed using 24 volunteer participants using a simulated environment that featured both intrinsic load, and characteristics of uncertainty. The experiments conclusively demonstrated that adaptive uncertainty visualization reduced the cognitive burden on the operator's attention, memory, and workload, resulting in increased accuracy rates, faster response times, and a higher degree of user satisfaction.

This research adds to the body of knowledge regarding the use of uncertainty visualization in the context of cognitive load. Existing research has not identified techniques to support uncertainty visualization, without further burdening cognitive load. This research identified principles, such as goal-oriented visualization, and salience, which promote the use of uncertainty visualization for improved decision-making without increasing cognitive load. This research has extensive significance in fields where both uncertainty and cognitive load factors can reduce the effectiveness of decision-makers, such as sensor-based systems used in the military, or in first-responder situations.

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