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Reward and Uncertainty Favor Risky Decision-Making in Pilots: Evidence from Cardiovascular and Oculometric Measurements

Abstract : In this paper we examined plan continuation error (PCE), a well known error made by pilots consisting in continuing the flight plan despite adverse meteorological conditions. Our hypothesis is that a large range of strong negative emotional consequences, including those induced by economic pressure, are associated with the decision to revise the flight plan and favor PCE. We investigated the economic hypothesis with a simplified landing task (reproduction of a real aircraft instrument) in which uncertainty and reward were manipulated. Heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV) and eye tracking measurements were performed to get objective clues both on the cognitive and emotional state of the volunteers. Results showed that volunteers made more risky decisions under the influence of the financial incentive, in particular when uncertainty was high. Psychophysiological examination showed that HR increased and total HRV decreased in response to the cognitive load generated by the task. In addition, HR also increased in response to the financially motivated condition. Eventually, fixation times increased when uncertainty was high, confirming the difficulty in obtaining/interpreting information from the instrument in this condition. These results support the assumption that risky-decision making observed in pilots can be, at least partially, explained by a shift from cold to hot (emotional) decision-making in response to economic constraints and uncertainty.
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Mickael Causse, Bruno Baracat, Josette Pastor, Frédéric Dehais. Reward and Uncertainty Favor Risky Decision-Making in Pilots: Evidence from Cardiovascular and Oculometric Measurements. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Springer Verlag (Germany), 2011, vol. 36, pp. 231-242. ⟨10.1007/s10484-011-9163-0⟩. ⟨hal-01069559⟩

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