The thesis examined the role that memory processes played in relative judgment decision-making in the context of an aircraft conflict detection task. Instance models of learning describe how people use memory for prior instances to perform tasks and were used as the general theoretical framework. An air traffic control (ATC) simulator was developed that presented air traffic scenarios to participants. Participants detected pairs of aircraft that would violate minimum separation in the future (conflicts). Conflict detection required participants to determine the relative arrival times of aircraft at intersection points, a skill known in the literature as relative judgment.
Experiments 1-3 presented aircraft in en route sectors. Participants saw pairs of aircraft repeatedly conflict with each other, or pass safely, before being tested on new aircraft pairs. Performance was influenced by the similarity between aircraft pairs. Detection time was faster when a conflict pair resembled a pair that had repeatedly conflicted. Detection time was slower, and participants missed conflicts, when a conflict pair resembled a pair that had repeatedly passed safely. The findings identify aircraft features used as inputs into the memory decision process and provide an indication of the processes involved in using memory for prior instances in this task.
Transfer of training simulations (Experiments 4 and 5) presented aircraft pairs in isolation for a controlled measurement of the effects of varied practice conditions on transfer. In other task domains, varied practice conditions consistently facilitate transfer. In conflict detection, the ability to transfer relative judgment skill was highly specific to the aircraft pairs presented during training. Individuals preserved information about the features of specific aircraft pairs when making relative judgments. The specificity of transfer has implications for the knowledge representations underlying relative judgments in the conflict detection task.