Expertise differences in attentional strategies related to pilot decision making

Angela T. Schriver, Daniel G. Morrow, Christopher D. Wickens, Donald A. Talleur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: We investigated expertise differences in pilot decision making by examining a hypothesized attention-action link. During simulated flight we measured the accuracy and latency of more and less expert pilots' decision outcomes and used eye tracking to measure their attention. We also examined whether decision outcomes and attentional strategies were influenced by properties of the cues indicating problems. Background: Errors in decision making contribute to many accidents and incidents, especially among inexperienced pilots. Although much is known about decision errors in terms of their outcomes, less is known about the cognitive processes that underlie expert differences in aviation decision making. Method: Fourteen more expert and 14 less expert pilots flew 16 flights in a simulator. Half of the flights contained a failure requiring diagnosis and action in response to the failure. Cues signaling the failures varied in how diagnostic and/or correlated they were. Results: The more expert pilots generally made better decisions in terms of speed and accuracy. Both groups made faster correct decisions when cues were high versus low in diagnosticity. Only the more expert pilots made faster correct decisions when cues were correlated. More attention was allocated to relevant cues (measured by percentage dwell time on areas of interest) when a failure was present, primarily among expert pilots. Moreover, the amount of attention to cues was associated with decision accuracy. Conclusion: The findings support the link between greater attention and more effective decision making. Application: The expert advantage in attention underlying decision outcomes may provide targets for improving pilot training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)864-878
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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