Evaluating differences in cognitive functions and personality traits among air traffic controllers with and without error history

Sepideh Hedayati, Vahid Sadeghi-Firoozabadi, Morteza Bagheri, Mahmoud Heidari, N. N. Sze

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Given the growing rate of air transportation, it is necessary to consider the safety of the aviation industry. Air traffic control is one of the most sensitive and important jobs in the field of flight safety. Working in such a context requires the use of high levels of cognitive functions, which can be impaired or reduced in speed and accuracy under pressure and stress. Another issue is that cognitive functions interact with non-cognitive factors, one of which is personality traits. Through using a causal-comparative method, the present study aims to evaluate the effect of cognitive functions like situational awareness, short-term memory, sustained attention and planning ability, and personality traits such as extraversion, emotionality, and adventurousness, on air traffic controllers’ human error by controlling the effect of age. For this purpose, five tests were selected from the Vienna Test System, namely MR, CORSI, DAUF, TOL-F, and EPP6, to measure controllers’ cognitive functions and personality traits. By convenience sampling, 37 controllers from the air control center participated in the tests. Excluding outliers, the groups were as follows: 16 controllers with error history and 15 controllers without error history. To control the effect of age on cognitive functions and personality traits, the groups’ data were compared using the covariance analysis. According to the results, there is a difference between groups in situational awareness (sig = 0.008, P ≤ 0.05) and sustained attention (sig = 0.01, P ≤ 0.05), with error-free controllers showing higher scores in these functions. However, in other cognitive functions that were studied, namely short-term memory (sig = 0.8, P ≤ 0.05) and planning ability (sig = 0.8, P ≤ 0.05), no difference was shown between the two groups. Moreover, the study of personality traits showed that controllers with errors differ from controllers without errors (sig = 0.02, P ≤ 0.05), but in emotionality (sig = 0.7, P ≤ 0.05) and adventurousness (sig = 0.6, P ≤ 0.05) there are no differences between the two groups. With these results in mind, efforts can be made to minimize potential errors in sensitive occupations such as air traffic control by using cognitive and personality screening tools.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105208
JournalSafety Science
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Air traffic control
  • Cognitive functions
  • Human error
  • Personality traits
  • Psychological assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Safety Research
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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