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Engineering

Research project: Applications of the Perceptual Cycle Model and Schema Theory to aeronautical decision making

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Decisions made by operators working at the sharp end of a system are embedded within the wider systemic context of the environment in which they work. Errors are a potential consequence of faulty or inappropriate decision making and are argued to be the principle threat to flight safety. Therefore, gaining a causal understanding of why operators make particular decisions is essential to advance our knowledge on aeronautical decision making and its potential impact on errors.

The perceptual model cycle

The Human Factors discipline is concerned with a systemic analysis and understanding of phenomena, however the unit of analysis can vary; from an individual to the whole system. The research undertaken in this PhD work suggests that the unit of analysis should be viewed from the perspective of the interaction between individuals and the environment in which they work. Neisser's Perceptual Cycle Model, of which Schema Theory is a central tenet, is the theoretical basis for the research.

Schema Theory proposes that the mind consists of organised mental templates of information that assist perception and information processing. The Perceptual Cycle Model represents the dynamics of performance in context. The aim of this research is to investigate the use of schemata and the role of the perception-action cycle in relation to aeronautical decision making. This will lead to an increased understanding about the cognitive basis of error and as such, mitigation strategies can be explored.

Multi-crew search

To date (September 2013) a literature review has been undertaken looking at the role of the PCM and Schema Theory in various areas of human factors research. The explanatory power of the theoretical principles was explored in a case study of the Kegworth plane crash. This demonstrated that the PCM and Schema Theory could provide insights into the actions and assessments that caused the pilots to crash the plane. The unit of analysis so far has been at the individual level, with the research exploring case studies of critical incident decision making from the perspective of individual pilots. Observational and audio data has been collected from Search and Rescue helicopter teams during their training exercises and will be analysed in order to consider a team version of the PCM. This will advance the field of aviation human factors by providing a team model of aeronautical decision making. Overall, theoretical and methodological developments are anticipated as outputs from the PhD.

Related research groups

Transportation Group
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