Together with partners from the DLR and the NLR we have participated in an EU project on flight safety. In this study we included trained airline pilots to investigate their spatial cognition abilities. We compared how they performed an abstract mental rotation task, which is frequently used during pilot recruiting tests, and a newly developed task that is a more realistic proxy for actual mental rotation efforts during flight operations. We found remarkable differences in task accuracy and brain activation and, thus, strongly challenge the notion that an abstract mental rotation task can be a predictor for real life spatial cognition skills.
Ronald Sladky, Irene Stepniczka, Edzard Boland, Martin Tik, Claus Lamm, André Hoffmann, Jan-Philipp Buch, Dominik Niedermeier, Joris Field, Christian Windischberger, 2016. Neurobiological differences in mental rotation and instrument interpretation in airline pilots. Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/srep28104.