Physiological Arousal, Information Processing, Performance and Expertise in Expected and Unexpected Abnormal Flight Events: An Empirical Investigation.
Aviation accident reports indicate that preventable incidents are developing into tragedies with pilots responding incorrectly to well-trained events e.g. engine failures. Recent research suggests that startle (an autonomic response to an acute stimulus with a sudden onset), following unexpected abnormal flight events is impacting pilot performance, leading to accidents. The present study was designed to investigate whether a simulated unexpected abnormal flight event can lead to startle. Information processing and performance differences between expected and unexpected flight events were also measured. Furthermore, the influence of expertise on arousal, information processing and performance in these events was investigated. Two studies were conducted. The first study employed university students recruited through the University of Otago Psychology Database. The second study employed general aviation pilots recruited through social media advertising. Students and pilots flew a series of flights in a fixed-base flight simulator including four experimental flights which included an unexpected or an expected, engine failure or aerodynamic stall. During the flights, heart rate, eye-tracking, and flight data were recorded. Increased heart rate and larger pupil dilation during the unexpected engine failure indicated the presence of startle in pilots. During the unexpected engine failure pilots showed a disrupted information processing strategy that indicated attentional tunnelling. Whereas, during the unexpected stall the information processing patterns indicated lack of recognition. During the unexpected events performance was impaired when compared to the expected events. However, poor performance was not associated with higher levels of arousal. In a third comparative study, data from novice (university students), intermediate (student and private licenced) and expert (commercial licenced) pilots were compared to investigate the effects of expertise. Information processing, arousal, and performance did not differ significantly over the three levels of expertise. This research supports a recently formulated theory on startle and surprise and has implications for successful training.
Advisor: O'Hare, David
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Startle; Aviation; Unexpected Events; Emergency; Pilot; Behaviour; Surprise; Engine Failure; Stall; Pilot Performance; Heart Rate; Simulation; Eye Tracking; Information Processing
Research Type: Thesis