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Pilots’ Brains ARE Different

The results of a small scientific study performed in China indicate that pilots’ brains are different than the brains of people who don’t fly.  The researchers concluded that the brains of pilots are wired differently to deal with the unique environment of the cockpit.

In a study of 14 flight instructors at the Civil Aviation Flight University of China and 12 first officers from Chinese airlines whose brains were observed in action on imaging equipment, the researchers determined that pilots’ brains have greater connections between the “central executive network,” which is the part of the brain that makes sense of various bits of information.  The researchers said this “might enable the network to have more diverse functions,” which helps put all the various inputs from instruments, the radio, the sight picture and others in the cockpit into coherence.

“Pilots are always working in complex, dynamic environments. Flying is now not so much a ‘physical job,’ but a high-level cognitive activity,” the study said. “The pilot should be completely aware of all conditions in real time, and be ready to deal with various potential emergencies.”

The “downside” of this is that while the central executive network is synthesizing all that diverse data, there seems to be a decreased level of “internal connectivity.” That, said the researchers, is “associated with self-control and appraisal of threatening stimuli.”