Nonlinear Dynamics of Team Performance and Adaptability in Emergency Response

Document Type




Format of Original

11 p.

Publication Date



Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

Source Publication

Human Factors

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1177/0018720809359003; Shelves: T 58 .A2 H8 2010 v. 52, Memorial Periodicals


Objective: The impact of team size and performance feedback on adaptation levels and performance of emergency response (ER) teams was examined to introduce a metric for quantifying adaptation levels based on nonlinear dynamical systems (NDS) theory.

Background: NDS principles appear in reports surrounding Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes, floods, a disease epidemic, and the Southeast Asian tsunami. They are also intrinsic to coordination within teams, adaptation levels, and performance in dynamic decision processes.

Method: Performance was measured in a dynamic decision task in which ER teams of different sizes worked against an attacker who was trying to destroy a city (total N = 225 undergraduates). The complexity of teams’ and attackers’ adaptation strategies and the role of the opponents’ performance were assessed by nonlinear regression analysis.

Results: An optimal group size for team performance was identified. Teams were more readily influenced by the attackers’ performance than vice versa. The adaptive capabilities of attackers and teams were impaired by their opponents in some conditions.

Conclusion: ER teams should be large enough to contribute a critical mass of ideas but not so large that coordination would be compromised. ER teams used self-organized strategies that could have been more adaptive, whereas attackers used chaotic strategies.

Applications: The model and results are applicable to ER processes or training maneuvers involving dynamic decisions but could be limited to nonhierarchical groups.


Human Factors, Vol. 52, No. 2 (April 2010): 162-172. DOI.