Decision-Making for Adaptive Digital Escape Route Signage Competing with Environmental Cues: Cognitive Tunneling in High-Stress Evacuation Situations

  • Sonja Th. Kwee-MeierEmail author
  • Wolfgang Kabuss
  • Alexander Mertens
  • Christopher M. Schlick
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10275)


The relationship between stress and cognitive tunneling, i.e. the narrowed attentional focus, is long known. In evacuations, escape route signs have to compete with environmental cues, such as corridor width and lightning. New digital escape route signage can help to guide passengers situation-adequately under dangerous conditions, for instance fires. So far, little is known about the effect of cognitive tunneling on way finding in high-stress evacuation situations and its meaning for the potential to exert influence on direction decisions by digital escape route signage. Therefore, we have conducted an age-differentiated study in a virtual environment of a corridor system with digital escape route signage and competing environmental influences. 60 participants, 30 young (20–30 years) and 30 elderly (60–79 years), made direction decisions in a total of 40 T-intersections in three conditions. There was a low-strain everyday condition and two evacuation conditions with higher mental, emotional and physical demands. Significant differences in direction decisions were found between the everyday and the two evacuation conditions. The participants payed more attention on environmental cues in the everyday situation, while strongly focusing on the visual search for escape route signage in the evacuation conditions, suggesting a pronounced tunneling effect in these high-stress situations.


Escape route signage Digital signs Stress Evacuation Emergency Cognitive tunneling Experimental study Age-differentiated 



The study was conducted within the project SIREVA in the context of the national program “Research for Civil Security” and the call “Maritime Security” (FKZ: 13N12954). The findings of cognitive tunneling and their meaning for the design of human-machine interfaces used in high-stress situations are further of relevance for the project DURCHBLICK in the context of the national program “Research for Civil Security” and the call “Civil Security – Aspects and Measures of Coping with Terrorism”, in which the investigations will be continued in the direction of human-machine interaction under stress. Both projects were/are funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sonja Th. Kwee-Meier
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wolfgang Kabuss
    • 1
  • Alexander Mertens
    • 1
  • Christopher M. Schlick
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Industrial Engineering and ErgonomicsRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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