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Fighter pilots' brains are not like yours or mine

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Elmore Furth Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-10 10:56 PM
Original message
Fighter pilots' brains are not like yours or mine
Expert fighter pilots are not built the same as you or I.

The researchers found that fighter pilots have superior cognitive control, showing significantly greater accuracy on one of the cognitive tasks, despite being more sensitive to irrelevant, distracting information. The MRI scans revealed differences between pilots and controls in the microstructure of white matter in the right hemisphere of the brain.

"We were interested in the pilots because they're often operating at the limits of human cognitive capability -- they are an expert group making precision choices at high speed.

The study tasks were designed to assess the influence of distracting information and the ability to update a response plan in the presence of conflicting visual information. In the first task, participants had to press a right or left arrow key in response to the direction of an arrow on a screen in front of them, which was flanked by other distracting arrows pointing in different directions. In the second task, they had to respond as quickly as possible to a 'go' signal, unless they were instructed to change their plan before they had even made a response.

The results of the first task showed that the expert pilots were more accurate than age-matched volunteers, with no significant difference in reaction time -- so, the pilots were able to perform the task at the same speed but with significantly higher accuracy. In the second task, there was no significant difference between the pilots and volunteers, which the authors say suggests that expertise in cognitive control may be highly specialised, highly particular to specific tasks and not simply associated with overall enhanced performance.

Fighter Pilots' Brains Are 'More Sensitive'
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Kaleva Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-10 11:02 PM
Response to Original message
1. Probably find similar results with the best NFL Quarterbacks.
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A HERETIC I AM Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-10 11:07 PM
Response to Reply #1
3. And Formula One race car drivers..
and likely any high level race car driver.
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tridim Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-10 11:03 PM
Response to Original message
2. I'm guessing that modern video games are wiring lots of young brains similarly.
I doubt fighter pilots think about dying either, they can't.
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Tunkamerica Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-10 11:39 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. I'm sure a few posters on DU are pretty quick with the unrec and the ignore buttons
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Skittles Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-10 11:55 PM
Response to Original message
5. .
Observation from a former fighter pilot friend:

The funny thing is that most people think that fighter pilots are especially skilled flyers of their planes. Actually flying the airplane is a secondary or tertiary priority. Among their peers fighter pilots rate those highest who seem to have a "gift" for situational awareness (SA).

Maintaining SA in a complex, 3D, multi-bogey (lots of friendlies and bad guys) environment at closure rates in excess of 1200 mph determines who wins. Having SA means assimilating friendly radio calls from numerous players and from your radar and warning receivers. A fighter pilot who is leading the friendlies is even more tasked, having to keep a mental picture of where everyone is, sometimes 20+ on each side.

My personal observation is that the pilots who primarily train for air-to-air comabat are much more skilled at this multi-tasking that air-to-ground pilots who already know their targets, the terrain and the surface threats. Also their target is not coming at them at closure rates of Mach 2.

That being said, fighter pilots are selected from the top of their class. Those that have a gift for SA get better with experience. Youthful reactions are far less important than quickly sorting and prioritizing a constantly changing threat. Given that an individual has the ability to process information quickly, experience allows him to hone that skill. Even the very best fighter pilots get "killed" hundreds of times while training.

Historically, 10% of the pilots accounted for 90% of the kills. Getting through the first 10 engagements in WW2 meant you had an 80% chance of surving the next 40 and going home.
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Fumesucker Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-20-10 09:30 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. Many long term street motorcyclists have a similar set of situational awareness skills..
Particularly those who ride a lot in urban, high traffic areas, if you don't have good SA you don't often live long, there are just too many threats..

Just before I clicked on this thread I was reading about training for motorcycle riders and how there has been no definitive study of whether or not such training increases safety. The consensus among the riders commenting on that article apparently is that attitude makes the biggest difference, with situational awareness being second and actual riding skills coming last.

The closing rate on a motorcycle is not as high as it is in a fighter plane but the field of maneuver is much more limited in scope and the number of potential threats can be much higher (just look around you on a busy road sometime, on a motorcycle every single vehicle is a deadly threat). People driving cars and trucks around you may not actually be out to inflict lethal harm on you when you are on a bike but it often feels just like they are.
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Kaleva Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-20-10 01:47 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. Fighter pilots lived and died on something like a bell curve.
Those fighter pilots who were lucky and skilled enough to survive their first few engagements became, for a time, very formidable pilots. But then something happened with many of them. Their skills deteriorated rabidly and they had no better chance of survival then a newbie did. This is what happened to the REd Baron in WWI. On his last mission, he became so obsessed with making a kill, he threw out his own rules of engagement. Rules that had kept him alive. Maybe it's battle fatigue, long periods of stress or they just don't care anymore that made once great fighter pilots a flying target.
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