What happens in a plane’s cockpit and pilot’s brain?

In the EU project Man4Gen, we are cooperating with the National Aerospace Laboratory of the Netherlands, the German Aerospace Center, Airbus, Boeing, and the University of Vienna, amongst other partners. Main research topic of the Man4Gen project is to investigate safety issues in civil aviation and aims to better understand the fundamentals of cockpit technology and human-machine interaction, one of which is situation awareness (SA). SA is essential to allow the pilot to stay ahead of the aircraft, especially in challenging and surprising situations.


In this context, our lab complements the versatile research approaches in the project with functional MRI research in order to investigate SA on a neuronal level. In order to undertake this research, we developed innovative and realistic aviation tasks which were fine tuned to address results regarding the different levels of SA. These are perception and understanding, reflecting monitoring and anticipation, which together lead to decision making. Additionally, we examined the mental rotation abilities of pilots to check possible differences in the activation of neuronal networks when performing an ordinary mental rotation task and when performing a task triggering real-life spatio-motor performances. As a result of our research, we were able to draw conclusions in the field of basic SA research as well as develop recommendations for pilot recruiting and training.

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