Individual reactions to stress predict performance during a critical aviation incident

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Vine, Samuel J. ; Uiga, Liis ; Lavric, Aureliu ; Moore, Lee J. ; Tsaneva-Atanasova, Krasimira ; Wilson, Mark R. (2015)

Understanding the influence of stress on human performance is of theoretical and practical importance. An individual’s reaction to stress predicts their subsequent performance; with a ‘challenge’ response to stress leading to better performance than a ‘threat’ response. However, this contention has not been tested in truly stressful environments with highly skilled individuals. Furthermore, the effect of challenge and threat responses on attentional control during visuomotor tasks is poorly understood. Thus, this study aimed to examine individual reactions to stress, and their influence on attentional control, among a cohort of commercial pilots performing a stressful flight competency assessment. Sixteen pilots performed an ‘engine failure on take-off’ scenario, in a high-fidelity flight simulator. Reactions to stress were indexed via self-report; performance was assessed subjectively (flight instructor assessment) and objectively (simulator metrics); gaze behaviour data were captured using a mobile eye tracker, and measures of attentional control were subsequently calculated (search rate, stimulus driven attention, and entropy). Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that a threat response was associated with poorer performance and disrupted attentional control. The findings add to previous research showing that individual reactions to stress influence performance, and shed light on the processes through which stress influences performance.
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