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Free Content Prospective Memory Failures in Aviation: Effects of Cue Salience, Workload, and Individual Differences

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INTRODUCTION: Prospective memory allows people to complete intended tasks in the future. Prospective memory failures, such as pilots forgetting to inform pattern traffic of their locations, can have fatal consequences. The present research examined the impact of system factors (memory cue salience and workload) and individual differences (pilot age, cognitive health, and expertise) on prospective memory for communication tasks in the cockpit.

METHODS: Pilots (N = 101) flew a Cessna 172 simulator at a non-towered aerodrome while maintaining communication with traffic and attending to flight parameters. Memory cue salience (the prominence of cues that signal an intended action) and workload were manipulated. Prospective memory was measured as radio call completion rates.

RESULTS: Pilots’ prospective memory was adversely affected by low-salience cues and high workload. An interaction of cue salience, pilots’ age, and cognitive health reflected the effects of system and individual difference factors on prospective memory failures. For example, younger pilots with low levels of cognitive health completed 78% of the radio calls associated with low-salience memory cues, whereas older pilots with low cognitive health scores completed just 61% of similar radio calls.

DISCUSSION: Our findings suggest that technologies designed to signal intended future tasks should target those tasks with inherently low-salience memory cues. In addition, increasing the salience of memory cues is most likely to benefit pilots with lower levels of cognitive health in high-workload conditions.

Van Benthem KD, Herdman CM, Tolton RG, LeFevre J-A. Prospective memory failures in aviation: effects of cue salience, workload, and individual differences. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2015; 86(4):366–373.

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Keywords: ageing; cognitive health; pilot; working memory

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2015

More about this publication?
  • 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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