Fighter pilots 'brains smarter, more sensitive'

For their study, researchers from University College London compared the cognitive performance  of 11 frontline RAF (Royal Air Force) Tornado fighter pilots to a control group of a similar IQ with no previous experience of piloting aircraft.

All the participants completed two 'cognitive control' tasks used to investigate rapid decision making. Diffusion tensor imaging, a type of MRI brain scan, was then used to examine the structure of white matter connections between brain regions associated with cognitive control.

The researchers found that fighter pilots have superior cognitive control, showing significantly greater accuracy on one of the cognitive tasks, despite being more sensitive to irrelevant, distracting information.

The MRI scans revealed differences between pilots and controls in the microstructure of white matter in the right hemisphere of the brain, the 'Journal of Neuroscience' reported.

"We were interested in the pilots because they're operating at the limits of human cognitive capability -- they are an expert group making precision choices at high speed.

"Our findings show that optimal cognitive control may surprisingly be mediated by enhanced responses to both relevant and irrelevant stimuli, and that such control is accompanied by structural alterations in the brain.

"This has implications beyond simple distinctions between fighter pilots and the rest of us because it suggests expertise in certain aspects of cognition are associated with changes in the connections between brain areas," lead author Prof Masud Husain said.

Comments (+)