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Does hierarchy influence our behaviour in risky situations?

Eve fabre

Nationality French

Year of selection 2017

Institution ISAE-Supaero, Toulouse

Country France

Risk Socio-Economics

Post-Doctoral Fellowship

2 years

130000 €

What if hierarchy was an obstacle to effective decision-making? In a cockpit for instance, does the authority line between a pilot and a first officer have an impact on risk-taking? « Hierarchy is a key principle of social organization, but surprisingly its impact on risk-taking has never been investigated nor proven », Dr. Eve Fabre, expert in Neurosciences and Cognitive Psychology, points out. Recognising the gap in knowledge, the researcher aims to investigate the impact of hierarchy on risk-taking, focusing on the field of aeronautics, specifically on hierarchy in the cockpit. Her objective is to improve our understanding of authority-related behaviours susceptible to jeopardize safety.

 « Cockpits constitute a great model for studying the impact of hierarchy on risk-taking. It is small and extremely hierarchical », explains Dr. Eve Fabre. « Moreover, human error is estimated to be implicated in approximately 70% of commercial aviation accidents ». « Various air crash reports revealed that hierarchical issues in the flight crew could jeopardize safety », she adds. A striking example is the 1999 crash of the Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509, which occurred as a result of the first officer’s failure to question the pilot’s misled flight control input, and thus despite the fact that his instruments indicated immediate danger. The incident was blamed on the Korean Air’s autocratic cockpit culture. « On the one hand, less experienced pilots may be less likely to challenge the actions and the orders of high experienced pilots in order to avoid the deleterious consequences of a conflict », Dr. Eve Fabre describes. « On the other hand, experienced pilots may be less inclined to accept challenges from less experienced pilots ».

 Investigating risky decision-making using NeuroErgonomics

 To conduct her study, the researcher uses methods from Neuroergonomics, an emerging scientific field that applies neuroscience to ergonomics. Using both electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring to measure brain activity in the cockpit, as well as various questionnaires, Dr. Eve Fabre intends to provide new insight on risky decision-making. Her findings will help develop innovative tests to measure the sensitivity of trainee pilots to hierarchy. «These could be used during the selection process, together with new training programs that will lower risk-taking related to hierarchy in the cockpit », Dr. Eve Fabre specifies.

 Technological speaking, planes are becoming safer. Human error in degraded situations, rather than mechanical failure, underlies most aviation accidents. But when it comes to "human factors" – a term increasingly used in the aviation field –, finding solutions to address our shortcomings is an ongoing and complex endeavour. By aiming to fill the knowledge gap concerning the impact of hierarchy on risk-taking in a cockpit, Dr. Eve Fabre’s objective is to contribute to increasing aviation safety, but not only that. Her findings will constitute a starting point to investigate the impact of hierarchy on risk-taking in other strategic fields like management, economics or finance.