Chapter 1. Human Behavior

Student Emotional Reactions

While it is not necessary for a flight instructor to be a certified psychologist, it is helpful to learn how to analyze student behavior before and during each flight lesson. This ability helps a flight instructor develop and use appropriate techniques for instruction.


Anxiety is probably the most significant psychological factor affecting flight instruction. This is true because flying is a potentially threatening experience for those who are not accustomed to flying and the fear of falling is universal in human beings. Anxiety also is a factor in maintenance training because lives may depend on consistently doing the job right the first time. The following paragraphs are primarily concerned with flight instruction and student reactions.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, often about something that is going to happen, typically something with an uncertain outcome. It results from the fear of anything, real or imagined, which threatens the person who experiences it, and may have a potent effect on actions and the ability to learn from perceptions.

The responses to anxiety range from a hesitancy to act to the impulse to do something even if itís wrong. Some people affected by anxiety react appropriately, adequately, and more rapidly than they would in the absence of threat. Many, on the other hand, may freeze and be incapable of doing anything to correct the situation that has caused their anxiety. Others may do things without rational thought or reason.

Both normal and abnormal reactions to anxiety are of concern to the flight instructor. The normal reactions are significant because they indicate a need for special instruction to relieve the anxiety. The abnormal reactions are even more important because they may signify a deep-seated problem.

Anxiety can be countered by reinforcing the studentsí enjoyment of flying and by teaching them to cope with their fears. An effective technique is to treat fears as a normal reaction, rather than ignoring them. Keep in mind that anxiety for student pilots is usually associated with certain types of flight operations and maneuvers. Instructors should introduce these maneuvers with care, so that students know what to expect and what their reactions should be. When introducing stalls, for example, instructors should first review the aerodynamic principles and explain how stalls affect flight characteristics. Then, carefully describe the physical sensations to be expected, as well as the recovery procedures.

Student anxiety can be minimized throughout training by emphasizing the benefits and pleasurable experiences that can be derived from flying, rather than by continuously citing the unhappy consequences of faulty performances. Safe flying practices should be presented as conducive to satisfying, efficient, uninterrupted operations, rather than as necessary only to prevent catastrophe.

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