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The distribution of tasks and stimuli across multiple modalities has been proposed as a means to support multitasking in data-rich environments. Recently, the tactile channel and, more specifically, communication via the use of tactile/haptic icons have received considerable interest. Past research has examined primarily the impact of concurrent task modality on the effectiveness of tactile information presentation. However, it is not well known to what extent the interpretation of iconic tactile patterns is affected by another attribute of information: the information processing codes of concurrent tasks. In two driving simulation studies (n = 25 for each), participants decoded icons composed of either spatial or nonspatial patterns of vibrations (engaging spatial and nonspatial processing code resources, respectively) while concurrently interpreting spatial or nonspatial visual task stimuli. As predicted by Multiple Resource Theory, performance was significantly worse (approximately 5-10 percent worse) when the tactile icons and visual tasks engaged the same processing code, with the overall worst performance in the spatial-spatial task pairing. The findings from these studies contribute to an improved understanding of information processing and can serve as input to multidimensional quantitative models of timesharing performance. From an applied perspective, the results suggest that competition for processing code resources warrants consideration, alongside other factors such as the naturalness of signal-message mapping, when designing iconic tactile displays. Nonspatially encoded tactile icons may be preferable in environments which already rely heavily on spatial processing, such as car cockpits.
Date of Publication: July-Sept. 2010