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The Neural Underpinnings of Emotional Conflict Control in Pilots

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BACKGROUND: Piloting an aircraft is a complex cognitive task. Human error represents a major contributing factor in aviation accidents. Emotion plays an important role in aviation safety. We performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to explore whether pilots and nonpilots may differ in the neural mechanisms responsible for the processing of conflict emotional information.

METHODS: A total of 27 civil aviation pilots and 24 nonpilot controls performed the emotional Stroop task, in which participants were required to identify the facial expressions of the stimuli while ignoring the congruent or incongruent emotional words superimposed on the faces. Neural responses to the stimuli were compared between pilots and controls. Also, a psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis was performed to explore whether there were differences in effective connectivity between pilots and nonpilots.

RESULTS: Behavioral data showed that pilots (21.23 ms) and nonpilots (26.78 ms) had equivalent congruency effects. Nevertheless, their neural activation patterns differed. Compared with pilots, nonpilots exhibited neural activity in the right supramarginal gyrus when processing incongruent stimuli, and more regions were activated in the process of conflict monitoring. The PPI analysis showed greater activity between the right supramarginal gyrus and the right lingual gyrus when nonpilots confronted incongruent vs. congruent stimuli. However, this effective connectivity was not found in pilots.

CONCLUSION: These results suggest different mechanisms underlying emotional conflict control between pilots and the general population.

Jiang H, Xu K, Chen X, Wang Q, Yang Y, Fu C, Guo X, Chen X, Yang J. The neural underpinnings of emotional conflict control in pilots. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2020; 91(10):798805.
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Keywords: emotional conflict control; fMRI; lingual gyrus; pilot; supramarginal gyrus

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2020

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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