In last month's cover feature of The Psychologist on aircraft safety, Don Harris explained that as the reliability and structural integrity of aircraft has improved, human error is now the principal threat to flight safety: it is estimated that up to 75 per cent of all aircraft accidents now have a major human factors component. 'As commercial aviation is a "system-of-systems", aviation psychology must respond with a similar systemic approach,' he wrote. 'There needs to be greater integration between the various subdisciplines – selection, training, equipment design and organisational pressures do not exist in isolation. They combine to contribute to accidents so they should be tackled in an integrated manner.' We also met an aviation psychologist, Robert Bor, in 2012.
One of many theories about the fate of Flight MH370 is that the pilots got lost. In a Digest post from 2012, we reported how even experienced pilots can fall foul of an elementary error in navigation based on confirmation bias. 'Were they to commit this error whilst flying, it would endanger the plane,' we reported. 'Indeed, such a scenario has unfolded in real-life incidents.'
Of course, until we have a more complete account of what happened to the plane, conspiracy theories will abound. This is another topic which we have covered in both the Research Digest and The Psychologist.
Our thoughts go out to the relatives of those on the flight, who may well be in need of professional psychological help to deal with the trauma they are experiencing. This Digest post from 2012 considered the debate over the merits of post-trauma psychological debriefing, and in both the Digest and The Psychologist we have considered the controversial 'EMDR' technique. But we would be interested to hear from our readers (via the comments below) of any evidence-based approaches that are in fact being used with those affected, or in the continuing bid to solve the mystery of Flight MH370.
Post written by Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of The Psychologist, for the BPS Research Digest.