Under pressure: Study looks into effect of deadlines on workers - Albuquerque Journal

Under pressure: Study looks into effect of deadlines on workers

Four face illustrations convey the plight of participants during research on deadline pressure. The facial expressions and postures were taken from actual observational data during the study. (Courtesy of Ioannis Pavlidis/University of Houston)

Deadlines are part and parcel of modern knowledge work yet they conjure up negative feelings and are perceived as challenging events. Journalists must serve their weekly columns, managers must turn in their monthly reports, and researchers must submit their papers and proposals on time.

There has been a trend to do away with deadlines, where possible. For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States introduced no-deadline submissions in some of its funding programs. Critics, however, have been arguing that although deadlines may be painful, they are necessary, because they motivate people to act.

Researchers from the University of Houston, Texas A&M, and the Polytechnic of Milano set out to address the question at the heart of the matter: “Does knowledge work near deadlines incur higher sympathetic load than knowledge work away from deadlines?” Sympathetic activation is the physiological state that indicates how much people are “on the tips of their toes,” and often leads to stress. This is why its intensity and duration should be kept in check, according to the researchers.

The first-of-its-kind study published in the Proceedings of the ACM Human Factors in Computing, was led by Ioannis Pavlidis, professor of computer science and director of the Affective and Data Computing Laboratory at UH.

Per an institutionally approved ethical protocol, 10 consenting researchers were monitored as they worked at the office in the two days leading to a critical deadline, and two other days without an impeding deadline.

Applying advanced data modeling on hundreds of hours of data recordings, the team found that researchers experience high sympathetic activation while working, which speaks to the challenging nature of the research profession. Surprisingly, this high sympathetic activation remains about the same with or without deadlines.

“Research is tough every day,” said Pavlidis. “Using a metaphor, if you are under heavy rain all the time, if one day the rain is a little heavier, it would not make much difference to you because you are already wet to the bone. This is what our models show with respect to the effect of deadlines on researchers.”

Smartphone use

The only factors found to exacerbate sympathetic activation were extensive smartphone use and prolific reading/writing. The first factor is a manifestation of the gadget-based addiction trends that have altered human behaviors across the board. The second factor is integral to research work, and thus unavoidable. Thankfully, however, researchers appear to auto-regulate increases in their sympathetic activation by instinctively adjusting the frequency of physical breaks. It was observed that on average, researchers take one physical break every two hours. From this baseline, data analysis showed that for every 50% increase in sympathetic activation, the break frequency nearly doubles, revealing the limits of cognitive work under increasing stress.

“Our naturalistic study not only brings fresh insights into researchers’ behaviors but also challenges some prevailing views about deadlines”, Pavlidis said. “With the recent advances in affective computing, I expect such naturalistic studies to proliferate across domains, challenging misconceptions we hold about a lot of things,” added Pavlidis.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Home » ABQnews Seeker » Under pressure: Study looks into effect of deadlines on workers

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Amid changing climate, big fires leave lasting changes to ...
ABQnews Seeker
The fire-scarred Jemez Mountains — hit ... The fire-scarred Jemez Mountains — hit repeatedly by high-severity wildfires over the last 45 years — offer a peek at how the Hermits Peak/Calf ...
Community groups plan gun buyback for South Valley
ABQnews Seeker
Community groups are holding a gun ... Community groups are holding a gun buyback next weekend. The buyback event, facilitated by the nonprofit New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, will be ...
New Mexico’s World College helped shape Wall Street Journal ...
ABQnews Seeker
In a wide-ranging interview, Tucker spoke ... In a wide-ranging interview, Tucker spoke about her time at the school in the ‘80s, how her career in journalism started and about her ...
Local food pantry reports big haul
ABQnews Seeker
The First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque ... The First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque said they are receiving enough food to support clients with food for weeks as part of the rewards ...
Chimayo man shot and killed on Sunday: Santa Fe ...
ABQnews Seeker
A 22-year-old man from Chimayo was ... A 22-year-old man from Chimayo was shot and killed at a residence where several people had gathered on Sunday night. Santa Fe County Sheriff's ...
APD: Man fatally shot in Downtown Albuquerque
ABQnews Seeker
A man was fatally shot in ... A man was fatally shot in Downtown Albuquerque early Monday morning. Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, said that officers were called to the area ...
Man charged in connection with fatal shooting of girlfriend
ABQnews Seeker
After the death of his 18-year-old ... After the death of his 18-year-old girlfriend in a Saturday-night shooting, Carlos Gonzalez, 24, was arrested by Albuquerque Police Department homicide detectives and charged ...
Biz Bits: Albuquerque Business Journal
ABQnews Seeker
Biz Bits: Albuquerque Business Journal Biz Bits: Albuquerque Business Journal
Business Column: In financial matters, government role has upside ...
ABQnews Seeker
Politics is directly intersecting with the ... Politics is directly intersecting with the economy — macro, micro, public and personal — in a not-so-rare standoff in Washington, D.C.