Question of the Week

Why do we make mistakes in repetitive tasks?

Mon, 14th Sep 2015

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Paul asked:

Why with repetitive tasks do we make mistakes?


For example, put the plastic clothes pegs in the black bucket and the wooden clothes pegs in the red bucket. That is plastic - black : wooden - red. For the first 27 you are okay and then you put a plastic clothes peg in the red bucket !


Just a simple example, but in some tasks, such as pharmacy dispensing, if you give old Mrs Brown too high a dose she might kick the bucket (either black or red!)! Perhaps that is not quite the same example because patients have different prescriptions, but offhand I cannot think of another suitable example.


Is it brain fatigue or does your brain go onto "auto pilot"? I wonder if the mistake rate would drop if it were plastic clothes pegs - plastic bucket : wooden clothes pegs - wooden box.




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This problem was analysed by America's greatest living philosopher, Bob Dylan when he wrote, "Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin' to be so quiet?  We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it" (1.)

The solution was expounded by Aldous Huxley in his utopian roadmap "Brave New World". All sorts of problems will vanish when all children are raised in creches where they have been segregated into castes by in utero procedures.

In the case of your error prone bin sorter, I make small doubt that one of Huxley's "Delta" caste workers would be able to put in a good error free 8 hour shift - totally untroubled by those pesky notions which trouble and distract 21st century man in Britain.(2.)

(1.) Visions of Johanna
(2.) Brave New World

Pecos_Bill, Tue, 28th Jul 2015

What would also affect it is if the boxes are clear or not, or if you are sitting at an angle where you could look inside of them as it would make the job even easier. Gaurav, Tue, 19th Jan 2016

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