Discipline differences in mental models: How mechanical engineers and automation engineers evaluate machine processes

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


Interdisciplinary collaboration frequently comes into play when existing problemscannot be solved by one discipline alone. However, the interlocking of contributionsfrom different disciplines is by no means trivial. This exploratory study examines onefoundation of successful teamwork, namely shared mental models. To this end, wecompared the contents of mental models between members of different butinterdependent disciplines who collaboratively solve knowledge‐intensive, creativetasks. Five automation and five mechanical engineers were recruited from acompany that produces packaging machines. In semi‐structured interviews,participants reported their approach to evaluating the process behavior of apackaging machine, and their mental models were represented in concept maps.Quantitative analyses revealed that the maps of automation engineers were smallerthan those of mechanical engineers. In qualitative analyses, the focus on differentlevels of abstraction and on contents from the two disciplines was examined.Automation engineers represented a large proportion of rather abstract machinefunctions, whereas mechanical engineers additionally represented the physicalimplementation of these functions. The disciplinary focus also differed in the sensethat automation engineers mainly attended to automated machine processes, whilemechanical engineers attended to both mechanical and automated processes.Overall, automation engineers' focus was narrower than that of mechanicalengineers. We explain these results by considering typical tasks and reasoningprocesses in both disciplines, and discuss how shared mental models can aid theintegration of different disciplinary perspectives, for instance, during SystemsEngineering.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-536
Number of pages16
JournalHuman factors and ergonomics in manufacturing & service industries
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2023

External IDs

Scopus 85166619287
ORCID /0000-0002-1577-8566/work/143783417
Mendeley 977aad76-0a03-3d56-a655-d2f3480ff9f9



  • automation engineering, concept maps, interdisciplinary teams, mechanical engineering, mental models, Systems Engineering, Systems Engineering, automation engineering, concept maps, interdisciplinary teams, mechanical engineering, mental models

Library keywords