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This paper will strive to answer those questions by discussing the basic system of human memory; its biological bases, outstanding capacity, lightening-fast speed, and most importantly, its inherent flaws and limitations. When a signal, an action potential, travels down the axon of a neuron, it may reach many synaptic junctions with other cells. Memories are laid down when permanent changes are made to the effect of the release of chemical transmitters. The exact location of where memories are stored in the brain may also be somewhat elusive, but a few things are fairly certain.
Most of us are familiar with, or have at least heard of, the three types of memory storage classifications. Sensory memory (also known as the sensory register) allows us to keep a highly accurate record of what each of our senses has just experienced for a brief period of time (Searleman & Herrmann, 1994).
Long-term memory (LTM) has the longest retention time (easily lasting a lifetime in some cases). To begin with, a common fallacy of memory posits that the memory of a person in his or her 20s will have a better memory than a person in his or her 80s.
Countermeasures for retaining (or even improving) memory, as one ages, is as simple as staying active and challenging the mind. You could think of memory in terms of a computer, as both systems are very similar in the way they process information (in its simplest form, a three-step process).
The second step, writing the information to LTM, enables vast amounts of information to be stored for indefinite periods of time. Drugs, taken for psychological disorders, such as widely prescribed benzodiazepines (BZs), may also have an adverse affect on memory consolidation. Neurotransmitters, which are chemicals released by a neuron into a synapse, can increase or decrease the likelihood that other neurons will fire action potentials.
Encoding of memories from STM to LTM involves much more than can be described in this paper. To start, it is undisputed that consumption of alcohol is one of the best ways to destroy nerve cells or change the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain leading to a loss of memory (p.105). While the above example is organic in nature, along with head injuries and diseases, there are a number of other non-organic reasons we may forget. Retrospective memory is simply memory of things that have happened in the past, and up to this point has been the focus of discussion. No discussion of memory would be complete without an explanation of how we can enhance our memory performance. Immediate memory, also referred to as sensory memory, is a storage area that can hold large amounts of information for a very short period of time. According to decision theorist Herbert Simon, it takes about eight seconds of attention to add one new chunk to short-term memory.
Exercise can improve general fitness, and therefore help your whole body work more efficiently. Now that you have been briefed about the fundamentals of memory processes, a direct application to cockpit operations follows. The exchange of communications between pilots and air traffic controllers (ATC) can at times become challenging, to say the least. TriJet 123Alpha Bravo is cleared to Acme Airport via after departure, fly runway heading, expect vectors to intercept Victor 123 Grimes intersection, Victor 456 Hollis, direct. When a pilot files a flight plan, there is a good chance that what was filed will actually be the clearance that will be received. Looking back at the clearance example, you will notice that there are nine bits (or pieces) of information in the body of the clearance. Air Traffic Controllers do have a manual that provides tips on communication with pilots (FAA, 1999).
One other area that is worthy of attention is something the author calls "spotlight effect." This typically occurs during the enroute portion of the flight when the pilot not flying (PNF), who is typically responsible for radio communications, experiences difficulty in reading back an ATC clearance. TriJet 123 Alpha Bravo, descend pilot's discretion flight level two three zero, expect to cross three zero miles east of Grimes at one zero thousand, Big City altimeter three zero one zero.
Combine a noisy cockpit with an air traffic controller reading you this clearance at lightening speed, and you can see where readback problems can manifest themselves.
One final note about the spotlight effect: The author has observed on numerous occasions that although the PNF experiences difficulty on a clearance readback, the pilot flying (PF) is often able to accurately repeat the clearance back in its entirety, either to the PNF or, in some cases, to ATC.
Why then, did this crew depart without extending the flaps and slats for takeoff like they had done hundreds of times before? One of the current studies being conducted by NASA's Ames Research Center is centered on task interruptions and prospective memory. There is, however, research being conducted jointly by San Jose State University and NASA in the area of "task interruptions becoming prospective tasks".
It appears that the low incidence of retrospective memory failures is such because most cockpit tasks are so overlearned that experienced pilots may rarely experience retrieval failures- a seasoned aviator is not likely to forget how to program the flight management computer or how to lower the landing gear (Lang-Nowinski, et al.).
1.Recognize non-routine situations, namely interruptions, deviations from habitual actions, and deferred tasks, as potentially dangerous. In relatively new research, there is some indication that normal memory can be enhanced by already existing medications.
The limitations to the study included a small sample base (validity problems for a larger population), side effects- which included diarrhea and vomiting (not a good thing for a pilot), and costs- Aricept is very expensive.
This paper has presented the basic concepts of memory function as well as its application to pilots in the performance of their flight duties. The html worksheet has the advantage that you can save it directly from your browser (choose File → Save) and then later edit it in Word or other word processing program. Refresh the worksheet page to get another of the same kind, until you are happy with the problems & layout. The basic biological processes of memory are discussed, including how memory is formed, stored, and retrieved, and how organic and non-organic influences may degrade or impede memory performance. Case studies, personal observations, and literature reviews will then be used to illustrate how memory is used in cockpit operations, and how its limitations can become problematic. The brain has approximately 100 billion neurons, each of which connects with thousands of other neurons (Solso, 2001). At these junctions, chemical transmitters such as acetycholine, adrenaline, noradrenalin, serotonin etc are released and travel the very short distance across the synaptic junction. Postsynaptic sites may become more sensitised to the effect of the chemicals or additional receptor sites may be grown. The duration of sensory memory is very short, with estimates of less than ? second to a few seconds, depending on the sense involved and the physical conditions (p.51). Episodic memory is personal in nature and relates to personal experiences of a situation or episode. Related to episodic memory, autobiographical memory usually includes details about a particular time, place, and details about objects and events that were experienced (AKRI, 2004). Most people are familiar with this type of memory and the man that brought it to light (Pavlov). Why is it so hard to remember certain things while other things are "right there" for retrieval?
If they did, they would be able to retrieve every event or sensation that they were ever exposed to in their entire life, and be able to recall each and every one of those events with lightening fast speed and vivid clarity. Research indicate that although certain types of memory functions do noticeably decrease with age, other memory abilities either are unaffected or at most show only marginal decreases that have little practical importance (Searleman & Herrmann, 1994).
Older people tend to disassociate from mind-stimulating activities, likely because they are now retired, accepting of a world of relaxation, highly predictable daily activities, and less interaction with others.
In this case, norepinephrine, when administered at the proper time, can enhance memory performance.
For simplification, the above examples were used as a basic introduction to the transfer process and by no means are exhaustive. You may have heard the expression "let's go kill a couple of brain cells" as an offer to go out for a few cocktails. McGeoch (1932) suggests that there are always activities or events that occur between learning and retrieval, and that these intervening events cause interference that disrupts our memories. In other words, recall appears to be better if someone is put into the state for which that initial memory was encoded. What you ate for breakfast this morning, which team won the superbowl two years ago, what your mother's maiden name is, and what high-school you attended, are all examples of retrospective memory. You own personality characteristics may in fact contribute to how well you remember to do future tasks. To be successful, prospective plans often must change in response to changing conditions" (Searleman & Herrmann, 1994). The tying of a ribbon around one's finger is symbolic of reminding someone that they have to do "something." The problem that may arise though is trying to figure out what that "something" was that we were supposed to do! A chunk is defined as an unfamiliar array of seven (plus or minus two) pieces, or bits, of information. Once a chunk is mastered, it becomes a bit and can then be combined with other bits to become a new chunk (cited in Howard, 2000, p.530). In a study by Henry Holcomb, a researcher at John's Hopkins University, it was determined that the memory for a new motor skill takes five to six hours to move from temporary storage in the front of the brain to permanent storage in the rear of the brain (p.530).


Dream (or REM) sleep is important for giving your brain the opportunity to process new information and consolidate learning. This typically begins on the ground when the pilot first picks up a clearance for the route of flight. However, there are numerous times when a clearance is not delivered as filed and the pilot must be able to write down the new clearance as it is given. ATC can help make clearance deliveries more efficient by keeping the speed at a conversational level, placing emphasis on each bit of information, and speaking in a clear and concise tone. Under chapter two in the manual entitled "Human Factors for Air Traffic Control Specialists: A User's Manual for Your Brain," the limitations of human memory are elucidated to remind controllers that human memory is fallible, and practical techniques should be used to offset these limitations.
Studies have shown that cramming too much information in a single transmission can cause problems. A pilot's memory for an instruction is hindered by extraneous information presented before and after it.
On average, 66% of these readback errors are corrected by the controller, but the proportion of readback errors corrected by the controller varies widely with the ATC environment. Over half (54%) of the reports describing incidents of pilots accepting a clearance intended for another aircraft involved similar call signs.2.
Clearances containing five or more pieces of information made up only 4% of the messages examined, but accounted for 26% of the readback errors found in the study. The spotlight effect is created by the PNF trying to hear and readback the clearance exactly as it was delivered to verify to ATC that the clearance was received and will be complied with. In the cockpit, prospective memory problems outweigh retrospective memory by a large margin, as reported by pilots in the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), a confidential self-disclosure reporting system sponsored by NASA. Bound for Phoenix and continuing on to Orange County, the DC-9 was carrying 148 passengers and six crewmembers. The only significant find in the wreckage was that both the slats and flaps were retracted. The purpose of the study was to develop a paradigm that is flexible enough to investigate cognitive characteristics of interruptions (Dodhia & Dismukes, 2003). Similarity of the interrupting task to the interrupted task affects PM (prospective memory) performance negatively.
There were 1299 reports and each was analyzed to determine whether the incident involved a memory failure. For now, the previous few pages have provided you with a basic understanding of the limitations of prospective memory in cockpit operations.
If possible identify exactly when a deferred or interrupted task will be performed and what cues will be available. A study by Stanford University, as reported by BBC News (2002) indicated that the current drug used for Alzheimer's patients could increase the mental power of people without the illness. The limitations of memory were discussed, and, specifically, the vulnerabilities of prospective memory were annunciated.
It preserves the pictures of what we have encountered in our lives and the things that we eventually will encounter.
Human Factors for Air Traffic Control Specialists: A User's Manual for Your Brain (Final Report).
Some people have even experienced a general sensation of feeling smarter when using this desktop lol.
For example, the student might find the value of the expression 2(t − 5), when t has the value -6.
Word problems relate algebra to familiar situations, helping students to understand abstract concepts. Key findings in current research indicate that prospective memory failures may pose a significant threat to flight safety. Strikingly, you may have snickered when the car parking and key examples were used because you may have had a bad experience with one of those. Receptor sites on the dendritic spine of the next cell can each accept a molecule of transmitter. The hippocampus, for example, seems to play an important role in converting memory from a short-term to a long-term, permanent form (TSFN, 2002, p.18). Each type serves a distinctively different function, varying in capacity (how much can we store), storage (where it is stored), and retrieval times (how fast we can access the information). Semantic memory is knowledge about the world; knowing the meaning and definitions of things (AKRI, 2004).
Conditioning results from pairing actions with reward or from pairing actions with parallel stimuli. There is also a wide amount of variation between older people; some do not experience a memory decrement at all.
This is the step where sensory information is used to determine what the stimulus is, and what you would like to do with it. For example, Squire (1987) found that drugs that affect the ability of neurons to secrete the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into their synapses can either improve or retard memory. Research has shown that students who were administered norepinephrine immediately following learning, were able to retain more of the information than the control group (p.161). Keep in mind that a high level of adrenaline, which the body produces naturally, increases the state of arousal and therefore increases memory consolidation. Simply put, "if you don't use it, you'll lose it." Unless there is an overwhelming reason to maintain an event in your memory, the information will slowly fade, and may eventually become irretrievable. In fact, McGeoch dispelled the Disuse Theory of time being the reason we forget, strongly suggesting that forgetting occurs because of what happens during the time between learning and retrieval. You see somebody you know fairly well in the cafeteria, but you just can't remember his or her name. According to Howard (2000), "the synapses formed to create a specific memory are connected to neural networks that form the basis of the conditions associated with the time and place of learning." State dependence can have a wide variety of venues. Forgetting about a dentist appointment, not remembering to take a prescription medication, or picking the kids up from school, are all examples of failures in prospective memory.
Searleman and Gaydusek (1989) found evidence that people with Type A personalities are more likely to remember to perform prospective memory tasks and perform them quickly than those who are not considered to have a Type A personality.
Data is collected in chunks, which consists of capturing the chunk (immediate memory), developing it (short-term memory), and fixing it (long-term memory) (Howard, 2000). If you look up a number and then dial it, the memory of that number will disappear quite rapidly.
Humans tend to process information most effectively when it involves approximately seven (plus or minus two) bits of information (Miller, 1956). A device that measures blood flow to various parts of the brain was the method used for determinations. There are also some unscientific claims that "magic pills" can improve memory through herbs, flowers, and extracts of various biological objects.
If you are a pilot, you are probably familiar with the expression "ARROWE." This is the mnemonic you probably used to remember what documentation must be onboard the aircraft before you can legally fly.
The cognitive demand placed on crewmembers is significant, and there are bound to be memory-related errors.
The clearance will contain a certain number of elements, most of which the pilot can anticipate. The problem is compounded by the fact that many air traffic controllers read these clearances to pilots at a speed which is apparently efficient for them, but beyond the comprehensible writing ability of the pilot. While en route controllers corrected 89% of the readback errors, only 50% of the readback errors on the ground frequency were corrected. Similar call signs were also identified as a contributing factor in 43% of the reports of communication errors resulting in near mid-air collisions and 21% of the errors resulting in loss of standard separation. The aircraft was cleared for takeoff on Detroit Metro's runway 03C and began its takeoff roll. The salient cues that were required for setting the flaps and slats were, for all intents and purposes, non-existent.
Several airlines have formalized monitoring procedures for both pilots and have changed the designation of pilot not flying to pilot monitoring (Sumwalt, Thomas, & Dismukes, 2002).
Tests involving 18 airline pilots with an average age of 52, found that those taking the drug Aricept were better able to retain complex training than those given a placebo.
It lets us ride a bike, remember who our relatives are, and how to get a good grade on a test. Students develop understanding by solving equations and inequalities intuitively before formal solutions are introduced.
Since memory is not truly an exact science (yet), the generally accepted theories of memory will be used as the anchor for this discussion.
It is believed that memories are stored at the junctions between neurons, called the synapses. If enough receptor sites are activated, the dendrite will signal the cell body of the next neuron. Damage to the hippocampus may result in a person not being able to remember new things yet able to remember clearly, events from before the damage (AKRI, 2004).
It is theorized that knowledge of the world is stored in the form of "frames," "scripts," and "templates" that allow a person to derive meaning for familiar, as well as unfamiliar, events and settings.
This depends on their own interpretation from their own individual experiences (AKRI, 2004). Interestingly, people with severe memory loss, even for their own name, still have intact procedural memory. Two types of conditioning exist: Classical conditioning, where a neutral event such as a bell ringing is regularly paired with a response-evoking event.
Most people have what is classified as "normal" memory, which is reliable, but subject to numerous faults and limitations.
Undoubtedly, part of the reason is that the older persons have had so much more life experiences and recollections to draw upon, compared to their younger counterparts.


Just the act of doing a crossword puzzle every day can offer enough stimulation to slow down stagnation of one's memory.
Five sensory channels are used to perceive the world; these are Olfactory (smell), Gustative (taste), Somatosensory (touch), Visual (sight), and Auditory (hearing) (AKRI, 2004). As in most aspects of memory function, there have been a number of theories postulated to describe this process.
Memories of events that occurred just before the loss of consciousness are erased (albeit temporarily), and events occurring at the actual time of the trauma are lost forever (p.156). However, the impairment seems to only affect the coding process, leaving STM and LTM largely unaffected (p.161).
Drugs that interfere with the normal use of acetylcholine prevent the formation of new memories. From a pilot standpoint, this is the reason why recurrent flight and ground school training must be conducted every 12 months. You saw a very funny stand-up comic just a few days ago, but for the life of you, you can't remember his name. Accessibility, Motivated Forgetting, Cue-Dependant Forgetting, Context-Dependent Memory, and of course Freud's theories, could fill a book.
If we learn something while we are driving on a freeway, we will likely recall it while driving on that freeway. As an example from cockpit operations, the act of forgetting to put the landing gear down is a prospective memory error (you already know from training [retrospective memory] how to physically put the gear handle down), it is the act of remembering to put it down at the right time that may become challenging. Characteristics of a Type A personality include a strong sense of time urgency, highly competitive, and having a perfectionist attitude. Therefore it may not be coincidental that telephone numbers have seven digits and we have all heard of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Seven Mortal Sins, and the Seven Virtues (Howard, 2000). During this five to six hour period, attempting to learn another new skill will cause problems for the prior learning.
Since research cannot verify these claims, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them, you are probably better off staying away from memory enhancers that come "in a bottle." However, there are some very good and easy to use memory enhancement techniques that you may want to consider.
Indeed, upcoming case examples exemplify how insidious memory errors can create benign mistakes…or…become a life-threatening event.
However, when the clearance is issued in a very rushed manner, it makes copying the clearance very difficult. As we speed up our speech rate, we lose many of the cues that help us tell the difference between certain speech sounds. On the TRACON and local control frequencies, controllers corrected 60% and 63%, respectively. Look again at the hypothetical clearance and notice how many combinations of numbers are used.
After a longer than normal roll, the aircraft lifted off and immediately began rocking laterally. The checklists (After Start, Taxi, and Pre-Takeoff) were not called for and subsequently not performed by the First Officer. Receptor sites may cause an excitatory (more likely to signal) or an inhibitory (less likely to signal) action. Other areas of the brain where memory is stored include the medial temporal region and parts of the thalamus for declarative knowledge, the basal ganglia for procedural knowledge, the amygdala for emotional aspects of memory, and the cerebellum for motor learning where precise timing is involved (TSFN, 2001, p.18). Patients suffering from learning problems are often still able to learn new skills, even though they may not know that they have learned them (AKRI, 2004).
Therefore, when the older person begins to experience biological decrements, the vast amount of stored knowledge of life events tends to provide an offset.
Sensory registers (that are really micro-memories) are used to store information for a very short time (a few milliseconds), but maybe longer if the stimuli are strong.
For the sake of simplicity, the most widely accepted theory, called the consolidation theory, will be discussed here.
In fact, Alzheimer's disease occurs because of the tremendous loss of acetylcholine-secreting neurons.
During the 12 months between refresher training, very little, if any, reinforcement is encountered for systems knowledge or flight maneuvers. Dialing someone's phone number is a classic example: Why did you call Aunt Bertha when you intended to call your friend Harry?
Or, you are asked to name all of the Great Lakes and you easily get four, but the fifth has you miffed! If something is learned while studying in a classroom, that very classroom will elicit recall of the subject. Those cues can mean the difference between understanding the clearance that was issued and needing to ask for a repeat, especially for pilots whose native language is not English. This chemical breaks down another called acetylcholine (discussed earlier) which helps pass messages between brain cells in parts of the brain key to memory and conscious thought. Remember- human memory is fallible and as a pilot you must incorporate your own countermeasures to ensure a safe and memorable flight.
Because of this compartmentalization of memory stores, traumatic brain injury can affect memory in varying ways, depending on the location of the injury. This section will attempt to answer all these questions to help us understand why memory is so susceptible to errors. Iconic store (visual information) and echoic store (auditory information) are examples of sensory registers. The consolidation theory holds that the transformation from STM to LTM is usually a progressive one and while a particular memory is in transition, it is susceptible to disruption or even erasure (Searleman & Herrmann, 1994). This is a good thing because the reliability and safety of modern-day aircraft makes abnormal or emergency situations a very unlikely event.
It hit a number of other light poles and then clipped the roof of a building, rolling past 90 degrees and then slamming into the ground and bursting in flames. Readout of the CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder) showed that the crew had neither called for nor completed the taxi checklist, on which the extension of the slats and flaps are the first item. The second cue, an aural alert that notifies the crew of this misconfiguration, was inoperative. We are bombarded with stimuli every second of our lives, therefore some of this information will be disregarded because it is either meaningless or unimportant, while other parts of it will be encoded and sent to a storage location (LTM). According to the consolidation theory, most events and stimuli and not immediately placed into LTM, but only gradually, and only in certain circumstances, become fixed in our memory (p.155). However, the disuse of these very procedures can make recall that much tougher, particularly at a critical time.
Other types of interference may include retroactive interference (RI), which occurs when newer information acts backward in time to inhibit recall of older information, and proactive interference (PI), which occurs when previously learned information acts forward in time to inhibit recall of more recently learned material (Searleman & Herrmann, 1994). In time, these names usually pop back into conscious retrieval, but not until after a long and agonizing bout with your memory. Just as the aircraft was pushed back from the gate, the first officer, who would have normally started the taxi check at that time, was instead copying the latest ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service), which had just been updated.
The third and final cue was the final verification by the pilots upon arrival at the hold short line. Presented at the 55th International Air Safety Seminar, Flight Safety Foundation, Dublin, Ireland, November 4-7. By the time he was done copying, the aircraft was already taxiing to the runway and it's possible that he believed the extension had already been done.
The captain is responsible for calling for the checklists, though the captain of 255 did not call for the after-start, taxi, or pre-takeoff checklists.
The pilots forgot to perform an intended task and 156 people (including two on the ground) lost their lives that day.
One of the first to research the subject, Ebbinghaus (1885), memorized lists of nonsense syllables and then tested his memory of the syllables at intervals ranging from 20 minutes to 31 days.
The crew also had difficulty taxiing to the proper runway even though they had flown out of Detroit several times before. This shows us, in its purest form, how fallible human memory can be, particularly when salient cues are removed or are not available.
As shown in this curve, he found that he remembered less than 40 percent of the items after nine hours, but that the rate of forgetting leveled off over time. The DC-9 is equipped with CAWS (Central Aural Warning System), which should have alerted the crew to the improper configuration, but no such warning was heard on the CVR.
This was accounted to a power loss prior to taxi, though it could not be determined whether it was intentional or accidental. The stick-shaker activated less than one second after liftoff and continued throughout the short flight. At the time of the incident, the weather was good though there were storms in the immediate vicinity of the airport and windshear advisories were issued.
It's possible that the crew believed themselves to be caught in windshear, which was evidenced by the captain's increased pitch-up, which is standard windshear avoidance procedure.
Had the crew lowered the nose and extended the flaps and slats, the accident probably could have been avoided. It was speculated that the crew might have been hurried in an effort to depart before the weather got any worse.
Also, they may have been rushed in an effort not to miss the noise curfew at Orange County, their final destination.



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