THE JFK PLANE CRASH AND THE CHAPTER ON PERCEPTION
Diane L. Finley
Prince George's Community College
Presented at the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, August 2001
plane crash of John Kennedy, Jr., along with the crash of several other
airliners over recent years, provides an unfortunate opportunity to
demonstrate the relevance of perceptual concepts and why we study them.
Allowing students to experience what pilots experience in-flight is one
technique for helping students understand the relevance of the sensation and
perception chapter. Investigators
and engineering psychologists have previously used flight simulators to show
that errors in pilots' visual perception are responsible for many of the
crashes. While few instructors have access to flight simulators*, there are
many commercial programs that simulate the experience of being a pilot.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is one such readily available program. ProPilot by
Sierra is another. There are also many others. These computerized in-flight
simulators can recreate dangerous situations and allow students to experience
what the pilots experience.
test the effectiveness of this activity, two assessments were conducted. In
one, students were asked to discuss their feelings about the activity.
Students in the aviation program also participated and also stated that they
better understood why they needed to learn psychology. Most psychology
students also felt that the activity was helpful in highlighting the
importance of this chapter.
In the other assessment, a five-point quiz was given to two classes: one class experienced the simulation program, the other class had traditional instruction. A pre and post-test on those perceptual principles showed some gain in understanding by students who participated in the activity. Students in the non-simulation section still questioned why they needed to know that material.
Review the sensation and
perception chapters, paying particular attention to the concepts of visual
search, illusory conjunctions, figure/ground, depth perception, convergence,
relative size, ambiguity and orientation constancy.
Use the flight simulation
program with the simulator is set to imitate the hazy conditions of the July
night when the Piper flown by John Kennedy, Jr. crashed. The conditions should
include the experience of flying over a dark area of land or water at night.
Lights of a city can be seen in the distance.
landing the plane without using instruments.
With no visual information, students often overestimate their distance
from the ground and thus inappropriately adjust their descent angles.
On February 24, 2000 the NTSB issued its findings that it was pilot error that
caused the crash. The final report showed that perceptual errors contributed
to the problem.)
Following the simulation
experience, students identify elements of perceptual organization that were
evident during that summer flight. Students also work in groups to solve the
mysteries of several plane crashes, identifying potential perceptual factors.
Plane crashes include the JFK crash, the 1965 United Airlines crash into Lake
Michigan, the American Airlines crash into the mountain in South America, the
1966 Al Nippon Airlines crash into Tokyo Bay.
Performance on the Sensation and Perception Quiz
Spring 2000 Classes
(Number indicates percentage of students who answered that item correctly.)
poster was originally presented at the Eastern Psychological Association
meeting in Baltimore in March 2000. At that time, I was employed at Community
College of Baltimore County, Catonsville which has an aviation management
program. We were fortunate to have a flight simulator used to train air
traffic controllers and pilots.
Write the letter of the best answer in the blank in the margin.
tend not to notice the unseen visual information at the "blind spot"
_____________ 2. The figure/ground principle:
a. was formulated by gestalt psychologists to describe how objects seem to pop
b. states that figures are obscured by their backgrounds.
c. suggests that elements that are located near to each other tend to be seen as part of the same perceptual unit, in most cases
d. states that individuals with attractive figures are likely to be viewed with interest.
____________ 3. The fact that some perceptual demonstrations such as the Necker cube can
a. the viewer can be fooled by inconsistencies in the scene
b. the same stimulus array can give rise to more than one perceptual interpretation
c. figure-ground is an important perceptual organizing principle
d. the perception is determined by sensory features.
_____________ 4. A motorcycle is
traveling on the road at night with a small flashlight taped to
a. the Poggendorf illusion
b. relative size
c. motion parallax
d. light adaptation
5. Linear perspective, relative size and motion parallax
a. monocular cues for depth perception
b. binocular cues for depth perception
c. opponent-process cues for perceptual constancy
d. trichromatic stimuli for perceptual constancy