Cognitive ability, expertise, and age differences in following air-traffic control instructions

Psychol Aging. 2005 Mar;20(1):117-33. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.20.1.117.


Differences in cognitive ability and domain-specific expertise may help explain age differences in pilot performance. Pilots heard air-traffic controller messages and then executed them while "flying" in a simulator. Messages varied in length and speech rate. Age was associated with lower accuracy, but the expected Age x Message Difficulty interactions were not obtained. Expertise, as indexed by pilot ratings, was associated with higher accuracy; yet expertise did not reduce age differences in accuracy. The effect of age on communication task accuracy was largely explainable as an age-associated decrease in working memory span, which in turn was explainable as decreases in both speed and interference control. Results are discussed within frameworks of deliberate practice and cognitive mediation of age differences.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Aviation*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Professional Competence*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Wechsler Scales