Traffic management, major events, infrastructure security: in crisis and security centres around the world, humans continue to play an important role. Although machines may never replace human operators – given the complexity of the decisions to be made and for ethical and accountability reasons, among others –, they can still support them.

The research interests of Sébastien Tremblay, a professor in the School of Psychology at Université Laval, include cognitive sciences, neuroergonomics and human factors. In this research project, the professor and his team from the Co-DOT laboratory wanted to characterize surveillance work, identify cognitive limitations and test technological solutions with the aim of maximizing the performance of security personnel. Over a period of twenty-four months, they observed around 250 surveillance operators in action, both experts and students, using a highly realistic simulation of a large festival. 

The results of this research provide numbers that support an anecdotal observation. While vigilance declines very quickly due to the monotonous nature of the work, the numerous stimuli (radio communications, multiple screens, etc.) nonetheless help the surveillance operator to remain engaged. The researchers made a number of recommendations, including providing operators with more training in managing information overload and improving the operator selection process. They also tested different interfaces that could help the brain better process these large volumes of information.

In addition, the team assessed the operators’ cognitive state (fatigue, stress or cognitive overload) using non-intrusive physiological measurements. These real-time measurements can detect when a subject is overloaded and stressed and needs someone else to take over. This method could be used in collaboration with industry to develop and test new technologies aimed at improving the efficacy of security management activities and, ultimately, the safety and security of all.


  • Marois, A., Hodgetts, H. M., *Chamberland, C., *Williot, A., et Tremblay, S. (2021). Who can best find Waldo? Exploring individual differences that bolster performance in a security surveillance microworld. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 35, 1044-1057.
  • Marois, A., Roy-Noël, J., Lafond, D., *Williot, A., Harvey, E. R., Martin, B., et Tremblay, S. (2021). Adaptation of a gaze-aware security surveillance support tool for augmented reality. International Conference on Human Interaction and Emerging Technologies, Virtual, 781-789.