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Domain-Specific Interference Tests on Navigational Working Memory in Military Pilots

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INTRODUCTION: Human navigation is a very complex ability that encompasses all four stages of human information processing (sensory input, perception/cognition, selection, and execution of an action), involving both cognitive and physical requirements. During flight, the pilot uses all of these stages and one of the most critical aspect is interference. In fact, spatial tasks competing for the same cognitive resource cause greater distraction from a concurrent task than another task that uses different resource modalities.

METHODS: Here we compared and contrasted the performance of pilots and nonpilots of both genders performing increasingly complex navigational memory tasks while exposed to various forms of interference. We investigated the effects of four different sources of interference: motor, spatial motor, verbal, and spatial environment, focusing on gender differences.

RESULTS: We found that flight experts perform better than controls (Pilots: 6.50 ± 1.29; Nonpilots: 5.45 ± 1.41). Furthermore, in the general population, navigational working memory is compromised only by spatial environmental interference (Nonpilots: 4.52 ± 1.50); female nonpilots were less able than male nonpilots. Also, the flight expert group showed the same interference, even if reduced (Pilots: 5.24 ± 0.92); moreover, we highlighted a complete absence of gender-related effects.

DISCUSSION: Spatial environmental interference is the only interference producing a decrease in performance. Nevertheless, pilots are less affected than the general population. This is probably a consequence of the need to commit substantial cognitive resources to process spatial information during flight.

Verde P, Boccia M, Colangeli S, Barbetti S, Nori R, Ferlazzo F, Piccolo F, Vitalone R, Lucertini E, Piccardi L. Domain-specific interference tests on navigational working memory in military pilots. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(6):528–533.
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Keywords: aircrew; gender difference; human navigation; interference; visuo-spatial memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Italian Air Force, Experimental Flight Center, Aerospace Medicine Department, Pratica di Mare, L’Aquila, Italy

Publication date: 01 June 2016

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  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

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