Date of Award

Spring 2009

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Human Factors & Systems


Human Factors and Systems

Committee Chair

Elizabeth Blickensderfer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christina Frederick-Recascino, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Wiggis, Ph.D.


The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of motivational orientation and social context on decisions made during flight. Cultural dimensions such as power distance, uncertainty avoidance and individualism have been found to correlate with aviation accident rates. Self-determination theory provides a schedule of social contexts and cues that support, control or thwart individual motivation, with the task-focused properties of intrinsic motivation and the external (group) focus of extrinsic motivation similar to descriptions of the cultural dimensions of individualism and collectivism. In addition, studies have demonstrated contextual cues may be used to prime cognitive goals, behaviors and strategies. The motivational orientation of 48 instrument pilots was measured prior to their participation in a simulated flight exercise that contained contextual primes to continue into or turn away from adverse weather conditions. Extrinsically motivated participants were observed to be vulnerable to external suggestions. This vulnerability has the potential to affect decisions made in flight. Risk assessment programs and reducing controlling factors in the flight environment can be used to mitigate this phenomenon.