Minimizing the Disruptive Effects of Prospective Memory in Simulated Air Traffic Control

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Prospective memory refers to remembering to perform an intended action in the future. Failures of prospective memory can occur in air traffic control. In two experiments, we examined the utility of external aids for facilitating air traffic management in a simulated air traffic control task with prospective memory requirements. Participants accepted and handed-off aircraft and detected aircraft conflicts. The prospective memory task involved remembering to deviate from a routine operating procedure when accepting target aircraft. External aids that contained details of the prospective memory task appeared and flashed when target aircraft needed acceptance. In Experiment 1, external aids presented either adjacent or nonadjacent to each of the 20 target aircraft presented over the 40-min test phase reduced prospective memory error by 11% compared with a condition without external aids. In Experiment 2, only a single target aircraft was presented a significant time (39–42 min) after presentation of the prospective memory instruction, and the external aids reduced prospective memory error by 34%. In both experiments, costs to the efficiency of nonprospective memory air traffic management (nontarget aircraft acceptance response time, conflict detection response time) were reduced by nonadjacent aids compared with no aids or adjacent aids. In contrast, in both experiments, the efficiency of the prospective memory air traffic management (target aircraft acceptance response time) was facilitated by adjacent aids compared with nonadjacent aids. Together, these findings have potential implications for the design of automated alerting systems to maximize multitask performance in work settings where operators monitor and control demanding perceptual displays.

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