Psychosocial Perspective of Human Performance

The Psychosocial Perspective

This perspective takes a more humanistic view of error and sees flight operations as primarily a social endeavour involving numerous interactions between pilots, air-traffic controllers, dispatchers, maintenance technicians, etc (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2003). Performance and hence error is directly related to the nature and quality of the interactions between performers in the system; with the quality of the interaction being directly influenced by the personality and attitudes of the individual.

Early developments within this perspective were rather Freudian; linking error to unconscious drives within individuals. This view lead to human performance improvement and error rectification management techniques which tended to centre on blame, training and quite possibly punishment (McDonald, 2003). Later developments were more useful. For example, the numerous errors and accidents put down to poor quality interactions between pilots, leading to the development of Crew Resource Management (CRM).

The perspective has suffered somewhat as a viable model for understanding performance and error because few studies have been undertaken to uncover the actual psychosocial mechanisms involved. But work by some researchers, such as Robert Helmreich of The Aerospace Crew Research Project, sought to test predictions associated with the perspective. They were also involved in research to understand the influence of culture on pilot error, until the project closed in 2007.

Another Psychosocial model can be found in Jody Gittell's book ’The Southwest Airlines Way’ (2005). Here she illustrates how high performance relationships based around shared goals, shared knowledge, mutual respect and frequent and effective communication can positively influence human and organisational performance, an effect Gittell calls Relational Coordination.

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. GITTELL, Jody Hoffer (2003). The Southwest Airlines way: Using the power of relationships to achieve high performance. New York: McGraw-Hill.
3. McDONALD, N. (2003). Culture, systems and change in aircraft maintenance organisation. In G. EDKINS & P. PFISTER (Eds.), Aviation: Selected contributions to the Australian Aviation Psychology Symposium 2000. (pp. 39-57). Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Want to know more?

Other Perspectives
An introduction to other perspectives for understanding human performance and error.
Aerospace Crew Research Project
A link to the still active website

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Anthony FryerAnthony Fryer

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