Intraindividual Variability in Basic Reaction Time Predicts Middle-Aged and Older Pilots’ Flight Simulator Performance

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Intraindividual variability (IIV) is negatively associated with cognitive test performance and is positively associated with age and some neurological disorders. We aimed to extend these findings to a real-world task, flight simulator performance. We hypothesized that IIV predicts poorer initial flight performance and increased rate of decline in performance among middle-aged and older pilots.


Two-hundred and thirty-six pilots (40–69 years) completed annual assessments comprising a cognitive battery and two 75-min simulated flights in a flight simulator. Basic and complex IIV composite variables were created from measures of basic reaction time and shifting and divided attention tasks. Flight simulator performance was characterized by an overall summary score and scores on communication, emergencies, approach, and traffic avoidance components.


Although basic IIV did not predict rate of decline in flight performance, it had a negative association with initial performance for most flight measures. After taking into account processing speed, basic IIV explained an additional 8%–12% of the negative age effect on initial flight performance.


IIV plays an important role in real-world tasks and is another aspect of cognition that underlies age-related differences in cognitive performance.

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