Exploring the effects of working memory capacity, attention and expertise on situation awareness in a flight simulation environment

Özcan, Orçun Orkan
Experienced and novice simulator pilots are subject to some of the constraints of a real flight (or a full flight simulator) situation in a PC based flight simulation. In this thesis, the effects of expertise, working memory capacity, inhibition and divided attention on situation awareness (SA) in simulated flight task environments are investigated. The cognitive aspects underlying the process of situation awareness are explored by analyzing the compound effects of above listed factors. Online and Offline SA measurements obtained from a simulated flight task are used with flight hours standing for expertise and scores of Automated Operation Span Task, Stroop and Coşkunöz visual attention tasks as measurements for working memory capacity, inhibition and divided attention respectively. Regression analyses reveal that expected relationships of simulator pilots’ SA with expertise and inhibition capacity are supported. On the other hand, expected relationships of SA with working memory and divided attention capacities are not revealed. This situation probably results from unsystematic differences in simulator pilots’ practices. In addition to the main experiment, simulator pilots’ levels of neural activity at their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are also measured during their behavioral performance. The relationships among neural correlates of mental workload induced by the simulated flight are investigated by the functional near-infrared (fNIR) spectroscopy optical brain imaging technology. Theorized mental workload distinction in the scenario of the simulated flight task is successfully observed in both perceived workload declarations and oxygenation measurements by fNIR.