Environmental support promotes expertise-based mitigation of age differences on pilot communication tasks

Daniel G. Morrow, Elizabeth A L Stine-Morrow, Larry Herman, Heather E. Ridolfo, William E. Menard, Adam Sanborn, Cliff Magnor, Thomas Teller, David Bryant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The authors investigated whether expertise is more likely to mitigate age declines when experts rely on environmental support in a pilot/Air Traffic Control (ATC) communication task. Pilots and nonpilots listened to ATC messages that described a route through an airspace, while they referred to a chart of the airspace. They read back (repeated) each message and then answered a probe question about the route. In a preliminary study, participants could take notes while listening to the messages and performing the read-back and probe tasks. In Experiment 1, opportunity to take notes was manipulated. Note taking determined when expertise mitigated age differences on the read-back task. With note taking, read-back accuracy declined with age for nonpilots but not for pilots. Without note taking, similar age-related declines occurred for pilots and nonpilots. Benefits of expertise, younger age, and note taking occurred for probe accuracy, but mitigation did not occur. The findings suggest that older adults take advantage of a domain-relevant form of environmental support (note taking) to maintain performance on some complex tasks despite typical age-related declines in cognitive ability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-284
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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