Friendly Fire and the Sustained Attention to Response Task

Kyle Wilson, James Head, Neil R. De Joux, Kristin M. Finkbeiner, William S. Helton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated whether losses of inhibitory control could be responsible for some friendly-fire incidents.

Several factors are commonly cited to explain friendly-fire incidents, but failure of inhibitory control has not yet been explored. The Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) could be a valid model for inhibition failures in some combat scenarios.

Participants completed small-arms simulations using near infrared emitter guns, confronting research assistants acting as friends or foes. In Experiment 1, seven participants completed three conditions with three different proportions of foes (high, medium, low). In Experiment 2, 13 participants completed high-foe (high-go) and low-foe (low-go) versions of a small-arms simulation as well as comparative computer tasks.

Participants made more friendly-fire errors (errors of commission) when foe proportion was high. A speed–accuracy trade-off was apparent, with participants who were faster to fire on foes also more likely to accidentally shoot friends. When foe proportion was higher, response times to foe stimuli were faster, and subjective workload ratings were higher.

Failures of inhibitory control may be responsible for some friendly-fire incidents and the SART could be a suitable empirical model for some battlefield environments. The effect appears to be disproportionately greater at higher foe proportions. The exact nature of performance reductions associated with high-foe proportions requires further investigation.

The SART may be a useful model of friendly-fire scenarios. It could be used to indicate a soldier’s likelihood to commit a friendly-fire mistake and to identify high-risk environments
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1219-1234
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number7
Early online date24 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


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