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Psychologist Evaluates Alternative Training for Pilots

By Sarah H. Dolan | March 24, 2010

The age-old question, "Can old dogs learn new tricks?" receives a well-researched "yes" from Dr. Deborah A. Boehm-Davis, professor and chair of psychology at George Mason University. But, she emphasizes that learning is conditional: it depends on the situation and right form of training.

On Friday, March 19, Boehm-Davis concluded the 2009-2010 Regent University Psy.D. Colloquium series with her presentation on "Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks? Developing and Evaluating Alternative Training for Pilots." She discussed several ongoing, federally funded, research projects she worked on to improve safety procedures for airline crew resource management.

"Events with consequences don't happen often, but they do happen," Boehm-Davis said to the audience of Regent students, staff and faculty. She cited the 1982 airline tragedy of Air Florida, which crashed in Washington, D.C., due to improper de-icing procedures; and the 1995 tragedy of American Airlines, which crashed in Colombia due to the flight crews failure to properly plan and execute safety measures, as examples to demonstrate the importance of the research.

Boehm-Davis specializes in applied cognitive research. She has worked with NASA Ames Research Center and served as president of Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology division of the American Psychological Association (APA). Some of her research programs have been supported by the Federal Aviation Administration or funded by NASA.

She discussed solutions for improved aviation performance through performance training, conceptual training and exemplar (example) training. She also discussed the communication and workload issues that pilots experience, and how new modes of training could help them overcome problems.

The results of several projects showed that new procedures affected an overall long-term improvement of pilot performance and knowledge.

"It is a great thing when your scientific research can get applied to the real world," Boehm-Davis said. She encouraged the students to consider pursuing careers that carry a relevance that extends beyond academia.

The Psy.D. Colloquium series brings outstanding professionals and scientists in psychology and related fields to the campus. Past speakers have addressed a wide range of topics, from marital work with difficult couples to evolving roles for psychology in health care. The colloquium series has featured leading psychological researchers, anthropologists, military psychologists, presidents of APA and its divisions, and philosophers to give Regent's academic community cutting-edge access to the world of psychological science.

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