Air Traffic Control Specialist Age and Cognitive Test Performance
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Air Traffic Control Specialist Age and Cognitive Test Performance

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    Researchers have explored the issue of air traffic control specialist (ATCS) age and performance many times over the past few decades (Cobb, 1968; Heil, 1999; Trites, 1961; Trites & Cobb, 1962; Schroeder, Broach, & Farmer, 1997; VanDeventer & Baxter, 1984). These researchers have consistently found a negative relationship between the age of Air ATCSs and both training success and ratings of job performance. A recent study (Heil, 1999) found a curvilinear relationship between ATCS age and performance on a computerized simulation of air traffic situations, with performance decreasing for people in their mid 40s. Some researchers (Heil, 1999; Schroeder, Broach, & Farmer, 1997) have speculated that these relationships may be due to a decline in cognitive ability with age. The purpose of the current study is to investigate the relationship between age and performance on tests of cognitive ability for incumbent ATCSs. As part of a concurrent validation study, 1083 incumbent ATCSs from 12 enroute centers took a newly developed air traffic control selection test. The tests included in the 6 hour battery were developed to measure the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) relevant to the ATCS job. Some of the KSAOs measured by the battery include: ability to prioritize, situational awareness, planning, execution, thinking ahead, short-term memory, reasoning, decisiveness, concentration, perceptual speed and accuracy, mathematical reasoning, and ability to deal with dynamic visual movement. The relationship between current age and performance on these cognitive tests was compared using regression analysis and analysis of variance procedures. The results of these analyses suggest an age-related decline in those cognitive abilities that are most important to successful job performance.
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