Is situation awareness all in the mind?

Neville A Stanton, Paul Salmon, Guy H Walker, Daniel P Jenkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)


This paper addresses the fundamental discipline theoretic question of whether
situation awareness is a phenomenon best described by psychology, engineering
or systems ergonomics. Each of these disciplines places a different emphasis on
the notion of what situation awareness is and how it manifests itself. The
approach from psychology places situation awareness as something that can only
exist in the minds of people in a system. This means that the unit of analysis is the individual and that team situation awareness is the summation of individual
situation awareness. The engineering perspective puts situation awareness in the
world, represented in the artefacts and objects that people use. This means that
the unit of analysis is the things that people interact with. Finally, the systems
ergonomics perspective places emphasis on the interaction between people and
their artefacts in the world, to propose that situation awareness functions like
distributed cognition. This means that the unit of analysis is the whole sociotechnical system. Each of these perspectives is presented and compared with reference to studies in aviation and other domains. It is concluded that the
distributed cognition perspective of situation awareness offers the most comprehensive explanation of the phenomena observed in socio-technical systems. Sociotechnical systems theory allows exploration of the social and technical subsystems independently, which offers a theoretical framework for aligning the three views of situation awareness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
Number of pages11
JournalTheoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science
Issue number1/2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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