Applied Cognitive Psychology

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Understanding the past: Investigating the role of availability, outcome, and hindsight bias and close calls in visual pilots' weather‐related decision making

Summary Past events, such as “close calls,” can provide valuable learning opportunities, especially in aviation, where learning from past errors could potentially help to avoid future incidents or accidents. This study investigated whether three cognitive biases (availability, outcome, and hindsight bias) could influence pilots' perceptions of past events, which in turn might influence their perception of events yet to occur. Study 1 found that pilots were influenced by the outcome of a flight when judging decision quality. Of particular interest was that pilots interpreted events that led to a close call very similarly to those that had positive outcomes, which may reinforce risky behaviour. However, although adequately powered, Study 1 found no evidence of availability bias: Exposure to one of four outcomes did not appear to influence later decisions. Study 2 found that having read a flight report, particularly if it ended in a crash, pilots consistently overestimated their likelihood of predicting the actual outcome, which may reduce any opportunity to learn. These findings suggest that two of the three cognitive biases explored in this study could influence a pilot's perception of past events in ways that may adversely affect how they make future decisions that in turn may affect flight safety.

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