Selecting personnel with greater working memory and sustained attention ability can reduce cognitive lock-up.
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Individuals with better working memory and sustained attention ability are able to respond to, and correct, multiple failures in automated systems faster while avoiding cognitive lock-up, finds a new study.
When automated systems fail, humans are still required to react quickly to correct the failure.
For example, in the crash of Air France Flight 447 in 2009, the autopilot disconnected and system issued 12 warning messages nearly simultaneously.
Cognitive lock-up occurs when a person continues to focus on an initial failure and ignores following failures.
The study found that higher levels of working memory and sustained attention enhanced the speed of reaction to failures.
Individuals with better working memory were also able to switch attention to secondary failures more quickly.
Although this was only a small advantage when an initial failure occurred, the advantage grew across consecutive failures.
Research author, Meike Jipp, of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), said:
If humans with better working-memory and sustained-attention abilities collect and process the necessary information related to the initial failure more quickly, they can proceed to the consecutive failure more quickly and collect information and process it more quickly.
Thus, they extend their lead across failures.
Personnel selection methods that include testing for working memory and sustained-attention would help mitigate cognitive lock-up in operators, according to the researcher.
The performance of low ability operators may also be enhanced by training.
The study involved 85 people monitoring a simulated flight display and engine warning display, similar to those in the Airbus A320.
Participants were required to respond to an autopilot failure and then a failure of one of the three engines.
The study was published in The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (Jipp, 2016).
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