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Effects of working memory, attention, and expertise on pilots’ situation awareness

Cak, Serkan
Say, Bilge
Mısırlısoy, Mine
The current study investigates individual differences that predict situation awareness (SA) in professional pilots. The aim of the study is twofold: to examine the roles of divided attention, inhibition, working memory, and expertise in predicting SA, and to demonstrate the relative contributions of these individual differences to online (Situation Awareness Present Method, SPAM) and offline (Situation Awareness Global Assessment Technique, SAGAT) SA measures. Thirty-six professional pilots completed a challenging flight scenario in a full-flight simulator. Divided attention, inhibition, working memory span, and expertise were measured using choice reaction time with dichotic listening, Stroop, and Automated Operation Span tasks, and flight hours in a full-flight simulator, respectively. Results indicated that offline and online SA measure were not correlated, supporting their concurrent use to obtain a comprehensive measure of SA. Offline SA scores were best predicted by working memory and level of expertise, while online SA scores were predicted by expertise, divided attention and inhibition. Results are discussed focusing on both theoretical contributions for defining and measuring SA and applications. Findings have implications for operators of critical domains and their interactions with automated systems, in which SA is crucial for performance and safety.