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Jing Xing, Lawrence L. Bailey; Attention and memory in air traffic control tasks. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):427. doi: 10.1167/5.8.427.
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Air traffic control tasks include visual and auditory monitoring, maintaining aircraft separation, and making decisions. Attention and memory are critical for such tasks. Even experienced controllers can find themselves in circumstances where their inattention, memory failures, or miscommunications lead to the situations in which one aircraft passes too closely to another aircraft (operational error - OE). Many OEs occur as a result of vulnerabilities in visual and cognitive processes. In particular, visual attention and memory are capacity limited. If a controller performs tasks at the capacity limits, the brain may fail to process certain pieces of information. This study examined the associations between OEs and visual mechanisms. We generalized an attention-memory model and applied the model to OE analysis. The model consists of two memory buffers: a working-memory buffer and a short-term memory buffer. The operations of the model can be described as follows: 1) The working-memory buffer associates pieces of information needed simultaneously for a given task. It also swaps information back and forth with the short-term memory buffer; 2) The short-term memory buffer maintains information for a period of time without being attended; 3) Attention selects items of information needed for a given task and puts them in the working-memory buffer. The two memory buffers and attention are all capacity limited. We analyzed 58 OEs with this model and found that about 60% of OEs were related to exceeding the capacity limits of attention and memory. The following phenomena were among the top factors contributing to the OEs: 1) inattentional blindness. 2) attentional blink 3) working-memory overload; and 4) disruption of memory consolidation. The results indicate a critical role of attention and memory in air traffic control tasks. The challenge for future work is how to apply the results of basic visual research to air traffic control to prevent certain types of OEs.
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