Chapter 1. Human Behavior

Normal Reactions to Stress

As mentioned earlier in the chapter, when a threat is recognized or imagined, the brain alerts the body. The adrenal gland activates hormones, which prepare the body to meet the threat or to retreat from it—the fight or flight syndrome.

Normal individuals begin to respond rapidly and exactly, within the limits of their experience and training. Many responses are automatic, highlighting the need for proper training in emergency operations prior to an actual emergency. The affected individual thinks rationally, acts rapidly, and is extremely sensitive to all aspects of the surroundings.

Abnormal Reactions to Stress

Reactions to stress may produce abnormal responses in some people. With them, response to anxiety or stress may be completely absent or at least inadequate. Their responses may be random or illogical, or they may do more than is called for by the situation.

During flight instruction, instructors are normally the only ones who can observe students when they are under pressure. Instructors, therefore, are in a position to differentiate between safe and unsafe piloting actions. Instructors also may be able to detect potential psychological problems. The following student reactions are indicative of abnormal reactions to stress. None of them provides an absolute indication, but the presence of any of them under conditions of stress is reason for careful instructor evaluation.

  • Inappropriate reactions, such as extreme over-cooperation, painstaking self-control, inappropriate laughter or singing, and very rapid changes in emotions.
  • Marked changes in mood on different lessons, such as excellent morale followed by deep depression.
  • Severe anger directed toward the flight instructor, service personnel, and others.

In difficult situations, flight instructors must carefully examine student responses and their own responses to the students. These responses may be the normal products of a complex learning situation, but they also can be indicative of psychological abnormalities that inhibit learning or are potentially very hazardous to future piloting operations. [Figure 1-5]

Flight Instructor Actions Regarding Seriously Abnormal Students

A flight instructor who believes a student may be suffering from a serious psychological abnormality has a responsibility to refrain from instructing that student. In addition, a flight instructor has the personal responsibility of assuring that such a person does not continue flight training or become certificated as a pilot. To accomplish this, the following steps are available:

  • If an instructor believes that a student may have a disqualifying psychological defect, arrangements should be made for another instructor, who is not acquainted with the student, to conduct an evaluation flight. After the flight, the two instructors should confer to determine whether they agree that further investigation or action is justified.
  • The flight instructor’s primary legal responsibility concerns the decision whether to endorse the student to be competent for solo flight operations, or to make a recommendation for the practical test leading to certification as a pilot. If, after consultation with an unbiased instructor, the instructor believes that the student may have a serious psychological deficiency, such endorsements and recommendations must be withheld.
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