Expertise, Cognitive Ability, and Age Effects on Pilot Communication

Daniel G. Morrow, William E. Menard, Heather E. Ridolfo, Elizabeth A L Stine-Morrow, Thomas Teller, David Bryant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated whether expertise reduced age-related declines in pilot communication, using multiple expertise measures and laboratory tasks varying in domain relevance. Younger, middle-aged, and older pilots and nonpilots listened to air traffic control messages that described an aircraft's route through an airspace, while they referred to a chart of that airspace. They read back each message, then answered a probe question about the aircraft's route. Pilots read back messages more accurately than did nonpilots, and younger participants were more accurate than older participants. Expertise and aging had similar effects on the probe task, suggesting that these groups were better able to interpret the air traffic control messages in relation to the chart, in order to create a situation model of the flight. Expertise did not moderate age-related declines on the aviation tasks studied here. There was, however, some evidence that more flying experience among older pilots (compared to younger pilots) helped buffer against age-related declines in cognitive resources, in order to maintain performance on the readback task. Measures of working memory capacity and spatial ability predicted communication performance, suggesting the importance of designing communication tasks that reduce demands on cognitive abilities and that support the use of domain knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-371
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Aviation Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Applied Psychology
  • Computer Science Applications


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