Robert Henning




  • B.S. Psychology, 1974, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • M.S. Biomedical Engineering, 1980, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Ph.D. Industrial Engineering, 1986, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Post doctoral fellow, National Research Council and National Institute  for Safety and Health (NIOSH) (1986-1989)
Research Area: The effects of work pattern, social interaction, and brief rest pauses on performance and well-being during computer-mediated work.


  • Board-Certified Human Factors Professional (CHFP, effective 1994)


  • Member, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
  • Secretary/Treasurer and President-elect, Psychophysiology in Ergonomics (a technical group of the International Ergonomics Association)
  • Member, Society for Psychophysiological Research


Social Psychophysiology and Teamwork

The experimental approach I use in studies of teamwork is guided by the social cybernetic theory developed by K.U. Smith in which social behavior is understood as various modes of yoked motorsensory control. Motorsensory control has reciprocal effects on the participants’ bioenergy production and metabolism, and so the extent that the participants’ heart rhythms or breathing rhythms become synchronized is hypothesized to be one indicator of how effectively the participants are functioning as a social system or team. In one of our first laboratory experiments, team performance and process measures of team coordination in a computer-based task were objectively scored while two team members worked in parallel and used joysticks to guide a virtual object through a complex path. Their cardiac and respiratory responses were continuously sampled. To my knowledge, this was the first empirical study to report that synchronized physiological responses of team members, or social-physiological compliance (SPC), is predictive of objective measures of team performance ( Henning, R. A., Boucsein, W., and Gil, M. C., 2001. Social-physiological compliance as a determinant of team performance. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 40, 221-232 ). Thereafter in a series of laboratory studies, additional experimental approaches were developed to not only better understand how SPC relates to team performance, but also to develop a means of scoring SPC over short periods in order to assess teamwork dynamics. In one such experimental approach, team members’ input control parameters were changed unexpectedly during the social tracking task, and SPC based on cross correlation just prior to these unexpected changes was found to be predictive of team performance immediately following these unexpected changes ( Henning, R. & Korbelak, K., 2005. Social-psychophysiological compliance as a predictor of future team performance. Psychologia, 48 (2), 84-92 ). This study demonstrated that it was feasible to assess SPC continuously and in real time, yielding an objective measure of teamwork dynamics for potential use in ergonomics evaluations of sociotechnical systems. The possibility that SPC could be used in systems to augment team cognition was both introduced and elaborated in a series of four papers I wrote in collaboration with two of my graduate students and a colleague, Dr. Thomas Smith at the University of Minnesota . (e.g., Henning, R.A., Smith,
T.J. & Korbelak, K., 2005. Social psychophysiological compliance as a gauge of the cognitive capacity of teams. Foundations of Augmented Cognition, Edited by D.D. Schmorrow. CRC Press: New York , Pp. Pp. 1228-1238
). Another experimental approach used to isolate key features of SPC was to use commercial video disk technology (TIVO) to introduce fixed time delays in audio and visual communication between team members who were located in separate rooms ( Henning, R.A., Smith, T.J., & Armstead, A.G., 2007 . Use of communication delays to identify physiological indices for augmented team cognition. Foundations of Augmented Cognition, 4th. Edition. Editors: D.D. Schmorrow, D.M. Nicholson, J.M. Drexler & L.M. Reeves. Strategic Analysis, Inc. and Augmented Cognition International (ACI) Society. Arlington , VA. Pp. 238-247 ). Yet another experimental approach was to collect SPC data from a four-person team during weekly meetings over a six-month period. Periods of speech activity, which in this study were considered highly articulated social behaviors, were used to segment the time series records of heart rate in order to test if SPC during these segments was more closely associated with team members’ subjective ratings of teamwork effectiveness. Consistent with social cybernetics, SPC occurring during serial speech exchanges between pairs of team members was found to be predictive of ratings of teamwork effectiveness ( Henning, R.A., Armstead, A.G., & Ferris, J.K. (2009). Social psychophysiological compliance in a four-person research team. Applied Ergonomics, 40, 1004-1010 .) . Additionally in a collaborative effort with researchers from Communication Sciences and also from the Social Division in Psychology, the audio-visual delay system was used in two additional experiments that examined the effects of unnoticed delays on emotions and the social perception of others during conversational exchanges, with one experiment focusing on inter-racial dyads. Time series data of heart rate and speech activity is yet to be analyzed. One ongoing laboratory experiment will allow us to gain a better understanding of how SPC might change or develop during team training, and may yield a much needed objective measure for tracking team learning. Research over the next five years will focus on developing and testing methods of providing real-time feedback about SPC directly to team members in a manner designed to benefit conversational flow, decision-making and team functioning in general. Consistent with the anticipated gains of augmented cognition systems, there is the potential for team function to improve by an order of magnitude, which would represent a revolutionary change in teamwork capability.

Participatory Ergonomics for Health Protection/Promotion in the Workplace

I am also integrally involved in a program of multi-disciplinary research that is focused on developing and field testing new ways of engaging workers in participatory health protection and health promotion efforts. In 2005 I helped plan the proposal for a Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace ( CPH-NEW: ), one of two centers funded by the NIOSH WorkLife Initiative in 2006. CPH-NEW researchers (and graduate students) at our three campuses are now in the fifth year of conducting field studies in Connecticut and Massachusetts.  My main role in the CPH-NEW research has been to lead efforts to define and implement the participatory approach that is modeled after participatory ergonomics programs. While worker wellbeing is a primary consideration in participatory ergonomics design efforts, it is unusual for these design efforts to focus on a combination of health protection and health promotion ( Henning, R.A., Warren , N.D. , Robertson, M., Faghri, P., Cherniack, M. (2009). Workplace health protection and promotion through participatory
ergonomics: An integrated approach. Public Health Rep 2009; 124 S1:26-35).
The  self-managed and participatory nature of the CPH-NEW approach to workplace health protection/promotion is expected to be more effective and sustainable than conventional top-down approaches that lack integration with, or do not include, workplace redesign efforts. Preventive approaches like these can also help reduce our nation’s reliance on compensatory approaches to health. I am serving as the project PI on an additional CPH-NEW research-to-practice project that is developing a “toolkit” that could be used by health professionals and non-researchers to implement a participatory health protection/promotion program. The toolkit will consist of abbreviated forms of the protocols and assessment instruments that have proven so useful in ongoing CPH-NEW field studies but a number of new tools and protocols will also need to be developed. For example, additional tools are needed to assess organizational readiness for interventions, and protocols are needed to aid program integration with existing work systems in order to achieve long-term sustainability. Scientific evaluation of this toolkit at six new field sites will rely on process measures, as opposed to outcome measures, and the development of various tracking tools for continuous improvement of the toolkit is also planned.



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