Basic research and application projects

My scientific career combines basic and applied research in Cognitive Psychology and Human Factors Engineering, with emphasis on attention processes, measurement of workload and training of complex skills. Drawing upon Kurt Levin’s old statement that “Nothing is more practical than a good theory” I strongly believe that combining the perspectives of basic science and application is of mutual benefit. Accordingly, I summarize my basic research focus as well as significant applications.
Gopher, D., Koriat, A. (1999). Bridging the gap between basic and applied research on the cognitive regulation of performance. In D. Gopher & A. Koriat (Eds): Attention and Performance XVII – Cognitive regulation of performance: Theory and application.Cambridgs, MA: MIT Press, pp. 3-14.

 Basic research

  1. The Economy of the human processing system. Together with David Navon we developed an approach to human performance based on economic concepts. It elaborates on the view that the human system employs utility considerations to decide on allocation of its limited resources. The efficiency of those resources for performing a task depends on parameters characterizing the task and the performer. We draw an analogy between a person performing one or more tasks and a manufacturer producing one or more products. For this purpose, we try to give interpretation to the microeconomic theory within the domain of human performance. Multitasking processing and response limitations are described by performance resource functions (Economics production frontier lines), which describe the joint product of the availability of tasks’ shared resources and strategic considerations. The conceptual framework is still highly referenced and used.
    a. Navon, D. and Gopher, D. (1979). “On the economy of the human processing system”, Psychological Review, 86, 214-253. Also published in Maital, S. and Maital S.L. (Eds.): Economics and Psychology. London: Elgar Reference Collection, 1993. also in Underwood, G. (Ed). Critical Writing in Psychology: Attention. U.K. Edward Elgar, 1994.
    b. Gopher, D. and Navon, D. (1980). “How is performance limited: Testing the notion of central capacity”, Acta Psychologica, 46, 161-180.
    c. Navon, D. and Gopher, D. (1980) “Interpretations of task difficulty in terms of resources: Efficiency, load, demand, and cost composition”, Attention and Performance VIII, Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 294-315.
    d. Gopher D. (1986). “In defense of resources: On structures, energies, pools and the allocation of attention”. In Hockey, Gaillard and Coles (Eds.) Energetics and Human Information Processing. Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 353-373.
    e. Gopher, D. (1994). Analysis and measurement of mental workload. In d’Ydewalle G., Eelen P., & Bertelson, P. (Eds.), International Perspectives on Cognitive Sciences, Vol. II London: Lawrence Erlbaum, Chap. 13, 265-291.
  2. The skill of attention control. While the resource profile of tasks is embedded in their structure, the strategic component is a top down executive determinant. The study of the skill of attention control followed the claim that when attention division is called upon between components of a high demand task or concurrent tasks, executive control and attention management are high level class of skills, operating on basic sensory and procedural skills. Common to all these type of tasks is that the performer would gain most if he or she could fully attend and respond to each element at all times. As full attention is not possible, tradeoffs and priorities must be established along with attention-allocation strategies. Setting priorities is a common human experience. We show that strategy focused practice has substantial impact on the competence and efficiency of attention strategies in allocating processing efforts among concurrently performed task elements.
    a. Gopher, D. (1993). The skill of attention control: Acquisition and execution of attention strategies. In D. Meyer & S. Kornblum (Eds.). Attention and Performance XIV: Synergies in Experimental Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, and Cognitive Neuroscience – A Silver Jubilee. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    b. Gopher, D. (1996) Attention Control: Explorations of the Work of an Executive Controller. Cognitive Brain Research, 5, 23-38.
    c. Gopher D., Armony L., Greenshpan Y. (2000). Switching tasks and attention policies. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 109, pp 306-339
    d. Gopher D. (2006). Control processes in the formation of task units. In: Qicheng Jing(Ed.): Psychological Science around the World, Volume 2, Social and Applied Issues. Oxford Psychology Press. A chapter based on a keynote address given at the 28th International Congress of Psychology.


  1. Emphasis change training of executive control and attention management skills. A follow up of the evidence on improvement with practice and the separate status of executive control and attention management skills, has been an effort to develop a training protocol for such skills. It has been labeled the “Variable Priorities” or “Emphasis Change” protocol. Emphasis change is a training protocol under which subjects are required, during training, to change systematically their emphasis, effort, attention allocation policy (these terms are used interchangeably) on major subcomponents of the performed tasks. Emphasis levels are varied between few-minute practice trials or among pre-specified short durations of task performance. There is ample evidence that under high load and concurrent demands performers rapidly converge to suboptimal attention strategy that will let the survive. Strategies are suboptimal in term of task requirement, performer ability or both. Moreover, once developed performers are limited in exploring alternative. The emphasis change training protocol leads trainees through a systematic exploration of the attention strategies space, to improve performance through a better match between task requirements and their ability. The method has been adopted by researchers in wide variety of tasks.
    a. Gopher, D. and North, R.N. (1977). “Manipulating the conditions of training in time-sharing performance”, Human Factors, 19, 583-593.
    b. Gopher, D., Weil, M., & Siegel, D. (1989). “Practice under changing priorities: An approach to training of complex skills”. Acta Psychologica, 71, 147-179.
    c. Kramer, A., Hahn, S, Gopher D. (1999) Task Coordination and Aging: Exploration of execuitve control processes in the task switching paradigm. Acta Psychologica, 101, pp 339-378.
    d. Yechiam, E., Erev, I., Gopher, D. (2001). On the potential value and limitation of emphasis change and other exploration enhanching training methods. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 4, pp 277-285.
    e. Gopher, D. (2007). Emphasis change as a training protocol for high demands tasks. In: A. Kramer, D. Wiegman, A. Kirlik (Eds): Attention: From Theory to Practice. Oxford Psychology Press, pp 207-224.

Pilot selection: During my service in Israel air force I developed together with Daniel Kahneman, a selective attention test based on a dichotic listening task, which was added to the flight selection battery. Analogue formats were created and applied in English, German, Dutch and Chinese.
a. Gopher, D. and Kahneman, D. (1971) “Individual differences in attention and the prediction of flight criteria”, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 14, 1335-1342.
b. Gopher, D. (1982). “A selective attention test as a predictor of success in flight training”, Human Factors, 24, 173-183.

Data entry Chord Keyboards: Touch typing on the standard QWERTY keyboard is a complex skill, adjusted to the constraints of mechanical engineering in mid-19th century. It requires weeks to acquire and continuous use to maintain. We developed an alternative chord keyboard, in which each hand can operate as a full ASCII data entry device. Each hand operates a five keys keyboard and characters are entered by chord combinations of the fingers. The system can operate as a single or two hand keyboard. The existing commercial system is called the “Bat”.
a. Gopher, D. Karis D. and Koenig, W. (1985). “The representation of movement schema in long term memory: lessons from the acquisition of a transcription skill.”Acta Psychologica, 60, 105-134.
b. Gopher, D., & Raij, D. (1988) “Typing with a two hand chord keyboard – will the QWERTY become obsolete?” IEEE Transactions in System Man and Cybernetics 18, 60l-609.

Training attention management and executive control 

  1. Attention training in flight: Based on the results of our study with the Space Fortress task, we developed an attention training platform for flight training. The platform was tested and incorporated in the regular training program of Israel air force flight school.

Gopher, D., Weil, M., & Bareket, T. (1994). Transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to flight. Human Factors, 36, 1-19. This paper was republished by the Human Factors and       Ergonomic Society, in Best of Human Factors: Thirty classic contributions to Human Factors/Ergonomic Science and Engineering (2008).

  1. Cognitive training platforms for sport: I serve as the scientific supervisor in the development and study of ACE – Intelligym web based training platforms. These are three software-based computer games for basketball, ice hockey and soccer. Each attempt to capture and simulate the executive control and attention management requirements of the targeted game. They are training platforms for individuals in the context of two competing teams. The systems are commercially available on the web, with thousands and continuously increasing numbers of registered teams and individual trainees.

Health care: Health care becomes exponentially more complex in technology and care procedures. It is accompanied by a growing concern about patient safety and care efficiency. Cognitive, executive control and attention research, have much to offer for many of these concerns. For more than two decades I have contributed to the development of recommended procedures, protocols and design of work environments in hospital wards and Clinique. They have been implemented and adopted by many similar units across Israel.
a. Donchin, Y., Gopher, D., Olin, M., Badihi, Y., Beisky, M., Sprung, C., & Kotev. (1995). The Nature and Causes of Human Error in the Intensive Care Unit. Critical Care Medicine. 23, pp 294-300.
b. Einav Y, Gopher D, Kara I, Ben-Yosef O, Lawn M Laufer N, Liebergall M, Donchin Y (2010) Preoperative briefing in the operating room: shared cognition, team work, and patient safety. Chest, 133, 443-449.
c. Donchin Y. & Gopher D (2013) Around the Patient Bed: Human Factors and Safety in Health Care. Taylor and Francis CRC, Florida US.