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Change Detection Flicker Task Effects on Simulator-Induced Spatial Disorientation Events

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INTRODUCTION: A visual stimulus change detection is an extremely important pilot’s cognitive process. This is especially true when pilot errors caused by perceptual failures have a negative effect on his/her spatial orientation. The aim of this research was to investigate the effect of the change detection flicker task (CDFT) on pilots’ response to spatial disorientation (SD) events. We hypothesized that the additional cognitive processing, based on CDFT, produces more deterioration of the pilots’ spatial orientation.

METHODS: Using an SD flight simulator, 50 male military pilots (M = 27.2; SD = 6.68) were exposed to 12 flight sequences. Of the 12 flight profiles, 6 involved an SD conflict, with 3 involving motion illusions and 3 with visual illusions. We measured and compared pilots’ flight performance in response to visual and motion illusion conflicts across two simulations (CDFT vs. control) and SD conditions (nonconflict vs. conflict).

RESULTS: Of the six applied illusions, significant differences in pilot flight performance were found for three visual and one vestibular illusion (Coriolis). The differences were observed between control and CDFT groups for both nonconflict and conflict flight sequences, associated with the approach and landing maneuvers.

DISCUSSION: The CDFT increased the pilots’ cognitive workload, affecting their flight performance and susceptibility to SD, especially in the approach and landing maneuvers. This partially supports our hypothesis that performing the CDFT leads to greater deterioration of pilots’ spatial orientation. We recommend that when problems in maintaining proper flight performance arise, pilots should not respond to external stimuli until they have recovered their spatial orientation.

Lewkowicz R, Fudali-Czyż A, Bałaj B, Francuz P. Change detection flicker task effects on simulator-induced spatial disorientation events. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2018; 89(10):863–872.
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Keywords: dual-task; flight illusions; flight performance; spatial disorientation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2018

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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.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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