London: Modern cockpits in aircraft bombard pilots with so much information that their brains can shut down during a crisis, new research has warned.
Researchers found that pilots' brains can become "overloaded" during highly stressful situations and as a result they fail to hear loud cockpit alarms that warn of an impending crash.
Modern cockpits bombard pilots with so much information that the prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain where rational decision making takes place - can all but shut down during a crisis, they said.
In some extreme situations, visual information being processed by a pilot's eyes can "totally inhibit" their ability to process sounds, resulting in "inattentional deafness," The Sunday Times reported.
The study also found that displaying an image showing what the pilot should do - such as pulling back the control stick - can "warm up the brain" and reduce reaction time.
Researchers at the French aerospace engineering school in Toulouse asked 14 pilots in a flight simulator to perform an easy landing.
One minute before landing they were forced to respond to a sudden cross wind at exactly the same time as an alarm went off warning that the undercarriage was not down. Eight of the pilots failed to pay any attention to the alarm.
"Visual processes may totally inhibit auditory processing. There is competition," said Professor Frederic Dehais, who is leading the research.
The research team is going to test whether an alarm that calls the pilot's first name would prove to be more effective.