This PhD project is funded by the School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen and is supervised by Dr Amelia Hunt and Dr Amy Irwin.  The PhD student is Letizia Caruso.

The aim of the project is to explore individual differences in eye movement behaviour by establishing the effect of task interruptions on eye movements during visual search. The mediating role of expertise in eye movement efficiency during search will also be examined, along with the effects of interruptions. Helicopter pilots will form the expert population within the research, because risk assessment during flight relies on the ability to gather information efficiently and continuously, by monitoring complex instrumentation and flight progress – making effective visual search a vital component of flight safety.  Visual search is also tied to developing, and maintaining, situation awareness – a vital non-technical skill during flight.

A well-established metric of search efficiency is the proportion of eye movements directed to locations providing new information. Previous research using this metric detected large individual differences, stable over time. Of particular interest within the current project is the influence of experience and expertise on search efficiency – are expert pilots better at visual search than laypeople? Effects of interruptions on search efficiency have not been studied before yet are a potentially important issue within aviation where the flight crew must juggle multiple tasks including air traffic communications, instrument monitoring and environmental perception.  The project plans to use a robust measure of efficient search behaviour to understand expert search, and to inform the aviation industry about training to improve visual search, workload management, and situation awareness.

The first step in this project, when it begins in October 2020, will be to undertake a systematic review of literature on this topic.