Influence of Anticipatory Time Depth on Cognitive Load in an Aeronautical Context

Empirical studies
By Sami Lini, Pierre-Alexandre Favier, Jean-Marc André, Sylvain Hourlier, Christophe Bey, Bruno Vallespir, Bruno Baracat


Anticipation is one of the cornerstones of the human capacity to manage critical situations. Various studies have addressed anticipatory and predictive cognitive processes distinctly in situations with slow and rapid dynamics. Their results indicate a need for effective anticipation, which contributes to reducing cognitive load while preserving optimal performance. Commercial aviation is dynamic environment in which safety stakes are high. Helping pilots to better anticipate constitutes a major challenge that the ASAP (Anticipation Support for Aeronautical Planning) project addresses.Flying a plane during landing phase has the particularity of implying both short-term anticipation (managing flight variables) and long-term anticipation (managing the flight path and getting ready to the landing). One early question raised by the cognitive psychology field is about the relationship between anticipatory time depth and cognitive load. In order to offer a tool providing information to help pilots better anticipate, this issue must be dealt with. In a simulated civil aviation setting, we implemented an experiment in order to investigate the relationship between anticipatory time depth – the time between the moment when information is presented and the moment when it is used – and how cognitive load evolves at a predetermined level of control.We chose to investigate a civil aviation setting where the tasks to be performed have fixed terms defined by flight procedures and the dynamics of the aircraft. This means that subjects can prepare to take action (anticipation by preparation for action), but they cannot pro-act (anticipation by pro-action). Cognitive load is also assessed. It is also expected to observe an “optimal time depth”, i.e. a “time depth beyond which the information-processing-induced overload is not compensated by what this information adds to the representation of the situation”.To address the hypotheses stated above we chose “radar” type guidance, i.e. guidance for instrument flight where the subject enters instructions relating to altitude, speed and heading into the autopilot which does not require any particular technical skills to be mastered. The results are presented as well as the ergonomics and knowledge management approaches implemented in order to design the experimental setup. The appearance of a cognitive compromise is highlighted and discussed. Conclusions are drawn from the results in order to design an effective anticipation support for pilots.


  • aeronautics
  • anticipation
  • cognitive load
  • HMI
  • time depth
  • cognitive compromise
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