In Plane Sight: Distraction and Object Detection in Simulated Flights
Human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) research continues to demonstrate that humans are not infallible, in particular increased attentional demands can impair an individual’s ability to react to incoming information. Inattentional blindness (IB) as a visual attentional failure is becoming an increasingly popular area of research in HF/E, however the literature investigating IB has largely been limited to a driving context. Driving literature is well-established with a plethora of studies showing that driving distracted can lead to poor detection of pedestrians, traffic and other extraneous objects located directly within a driver’s visual field. Despite this well-established research in driving, inattention and distractions are major contributing factors towards pilot error in air crashes and incidents, and failures to detect targets or impending hazards can have preventable and catastrophic effects. It therefore becomes imperative to shift attention to distraction and IB in an aviation context, and uncover what human factors issues air crew face when imposed with increasing attentional demands. The current investigation provides a first demonstration of inattention due to distraction in simulated flights. Following theory and practical flight training in a Cessna-172 flight simulator, participants were required to take-off and fly from Queenstown International Airport (New Zealand) to one of two destinations in a counterbalanced order; Arrowtown or Walter Peak, and return to Queenstown International Airport. During these test flights, the experimenter initiated a distracting conversation with the participants during either the take-off-climb or cruise flight segments. Following the distraction phase of each flight, participants completed situation awareness (SART), workload (NASA TLX) and target detection measures. The present results demonstrate that competition for resources affected performance in both flight segments resulting in attention degradation. As a consequence of the distraction, participants’ target reporting decreased significantly, with participants reporting twice as many targets when not engaged in conversation. This research supports the inattentional blindness hypothesis, suggesting that when attentional resources are shifted from the primary task of flying to a more cognitively engaging context participants become inattentionally blind to changes in their environment.
Advisor: O'Hare, David
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Distraction; Aviation; flight simulator; inattentional blindness; object detection; workload; situational awareness; target detection; NASA TLX; SART; flight; eye tracking; visual inattention; simulated flight; human factors; aviation human factors; visual attention
Research Type: Thesis