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Selective Auditory Attention and Spatial Disorientation Cues Effect on Flight Performance

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INTRODUCTION: The auditory system is not as heavily involved in the pilot’s spatial orientation as the visual and vestibular systems; however, it plays a significant role in the cockpit for communication and warning information. The aim of this research was to investigate the combined effect of selective auditory attention and simulator-induced spatial disorientation (SD) cues on pilots’ flight performance. We hypothesized that the flight performance in both disoriented and oriented flight profiles would be impaired by selective auditory attention.

METHODS: Using an SD simulator, 40 male military pilots (M = 31.9; SD = 7.41) were exposed to 12 flight sequences, where 6 contained a SD-conflict, 3 with motion illusions and 3 with visual illusions. The pilots performed a duration discrimination task (DDT) involving sound stimuli while completing these profiles under SD-conflict and nonconflict conditions.

RESULTS: In five flight profiles tested, the DDT and SD cues increased the pilots’ cognitive workload, adversely affecting their flight performance. In the approach and landing profiles involving visual illusions, significant differences between the control and DDT groups were found for both nonconflict and SD-conflict flight sequences, whereas differences were only significant between nonconflict and SD-conflict flights for the two vestibular SD profiles.

DISCUSSION: The results obtained partially support our hypothesis that performing the DDT, even in the absence of SD-conflict, significantly affects pilots’ flight performance. In some cases, despite the large increase in cognitive workload, pilots did not activate the “posture first” principle. Pilots should be trained not to respond to auditory stimuli until they have recovered their spatial orientation.

Lewkowicz R, Stróżak P, Bałaj B, Francuz P, Augustynowicz P. Selective auditory attention and spatial disorientation cues effect on flight performance. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2018; 89(11):976–984.
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Keywords: auditory system; flight illusions; selective attention; spatial orientation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 November 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.

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