Cognitive Perspective of Human Performance

The Cognitive Perspective

The overriding principle of the Cognitive Perspective is that the pilot’s mind is an information processing system, somewhat like a computer (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2003). Cues or stimuli from the environment being detected by the pilot’s scenes and then processed through working and long-term memories, via a series of mental activities, to produce a response.

A Pilot Decision-making Model (image embedded from [] on 30 August 2010)

Errors arise because stimuli may be weak or misleading, resulting in erroneous assessments, or assessments may be correct, but the wrong solution maybe chosen, or the correct solution may be decided upon, but the pilot may not possess the expertise to avoid an error.

The source of error, whatever it may be is more likely to arise from a situation that the cognitive perspective perceives as negative. Maltin (2009) claims that positive information is better handled by cognitive processes than negative information. Positive information will lead to a better performance and Maltin also notes the same for emotion; either positive (pleasant) or negative (unpleasant).

Cognitive models are popular with aviation psychologists for analysing pilot error, because they look for underlying causes of human error; the ‘whys’. This understanding is helpful for developing effective strategies for mitigating human error. These are usually based around training to improve information processing and methods of reducing task demands; such as checklists.

However these models do not transfer well to accident investigations, being too academic and not addressing issues such as context, equipment design, environmental issues and supervision, and also placing blame for error firmly on the pilot.

1. WIEGMANN, Douglas, & SHAPPELL, Scott (2003). A human error approach to aviation accident analysis: The Human Factors Analysis and Classification System. Burlington. USA: Ashgate Publishing Company.
2. Matlin, M. W. (2009). Cognition. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Want to know more?

Other Perspectives
An introduction to other perspectives for understanding human performance and error.

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Anthony FryerAnthony Fryer

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