Essay on Aviation: Multitasking

Submitted By carnage88
Words: 2174
Pages: 9

Pilot Multitasking: How to Maximize Attention


Abstract Pilots are expected to operate in a challenging environment of ever increasing complexity. It is therefore imperative that pilots are able to process information from multiple sources so that they can multitask effectively. Attention can be the main cognitive limitation imposed on pilots who have to deal with high workloads in demanding situations. Even with today’s automation advances, attention related accidents are still occurring. Divided attention processing through the use of different simultaneous encoding techniques (visual/aural) help to illustrate that limited parallel processing is possible as pilots appear to be able to process more than one stream of information at a time. Through the use of metarecognition training and realistic simulator-based scenario exercises which emphasize multitasking, pilots should be to expand their current limits of attention and increase their cognitive capacity as it relates to performing multiple tasks. Introduction There are essentially three ways in which the human mind can process information. The sense organs can obtain signals from the outside world and once captured in the shortterm sensory store, perception can take place. This is known as bottom-up processing. The second way is through the process of dreaming or our hardwired mind acting subconsciously. This was developed over millions of years of evolution (top-down processing). The third way is really a hybrid of the above. Humans perceive information from the environment and through the use of memory and expectations, the information can then be apportioned through several different channels. It should be noted that there is one systemic problem. Information processing by the human mind has boundaries, and attention is the resource which imposes this limitation (Murray & Wojciulik, 2003). Attention is a top-down influence on information obtained via the sense organs. The human mind itself is not capable of distinguishing as to whether a bottom up or top down process is being used for data processing (Smallman & St. John, 2005). The incoming information is obtained bottom-up and then top-down influences change how the data is perceived. This amended information is what pilots use to perform their tasks. Pilots are expected to make many decisions and this often requires a procurement of information from more than one source in a given moment. Due to limitations posed by the attention pool of resources available, risk levels increase when an oversaturation of workload is required of pilots. The industry continues to come up with improvements in training and automation, but as aviation systems continue to become more complex, attention related aviation accidents still transpire. This is especially true when spatial disorientation leads to an unsafe outcome (Mathews, Previc & Bunting, 2002). The human race has only been exposed to flight for more than a century and when coupled with the fact that these kinds of operations require significant multitasking and decision making abilities, there is still much to be learned (Gibb, Gray & Scharff, 2010).

Pilots and the Limits of Attention Attention can either help or hinder the pilot with the goal of attaining both accurate and meaningful data. Pilots have the ability to select certain areas of their environment in order to sample cues which they deem are most important at the time of sampling. This fits in with an organized goal structure. As an example, the ab-initio student pilot is taught early on which items require the most frequent scanning, and for this reason attention resources are heavily directed to scanning for traffic conflicts (Transport Canada, 2004). From this perspective, selective attention seems to be beneficial. As a pilot becomes progressively more experienced though, more tasks are imposed and pilots are expected to complete those tasks with minimal human error. Selective attention then can