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Cognition, Stress, and Skilled Performance

Stress has historically been viewed as a ‘non-specific’ response to threat or anxiety. Stress responses appear to be triggered by interaction among an individual’s perception of task demands, his or her ability to cope with those demands, and the importance of being able to cope with the demands. Substantial research has been directed toward elucidating the cognitive and behavioral effects of various stressors, however gaps and inconsistencies exist in the literature. Aircrew responding to emergencies and other abnormal situations must deal with acute stressors such as time pressure, high workload, and threat to life. We are examining NTSB accident reports to investigate (i) the cognitive demands imposed by emergency situations and (ii) the ways in which stresses associated with those demands influenced the crews’ cognitive processes and performance of tasks. Our analysis will provide guidance for designing operating procedures and training to help crews deal with the demands and stresses of emergencies.We are also developing a theoretical model of the cognitive effects of stressors that will attempt to draw together a diverse and complicated research literature.

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