Improved tests for tomorrow’s pilots

UTA psychologist, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory partner to improve military aptitude tests

Tuesday, Sep 13, 2022 • Linsey Retcofsky : Contact

A cheerful man wearing a light blue dress shirt smiles for a portrait." _languageinserted="true

The United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has initiated a collaborative research agreement with a cognitive psychologist at The University of Texas at Arlington to explore new tests and approaches that will both remove biases and improve military aptitude tests.

Matthew Robison, assistant professor of psychology, is the principal investigator on the three-year, nearly $700,000 contract. His research will evaluate new potential measures for the Aviation Selection Test Battery and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, two aptitude tests that the military uses to screen people for various occupations, including those in aviation.

The military is continually looking for ways to expand minority and female representation in different jobs, while also maintaining or improving its ability to predict who will succeed in those jobs.

Robison, whose research examines the human cognitive system from a variety of angles, will propose new test measurements that use a combination of techniques, including examination of individual differences, psychophysiology and behavioral experiments. Physiological measures will include eye-tracking, pupillometry and observation of electrical activity in the brain.

Pupillometry, the measurement of fluctuations in pupil diameter in response to stimuli, can reveal an individual’s maximum cognitive workload capacity and predict someone’s working memory competency and fluid intelligence. A multiple object tracking task, for example, could give recruiters a reliable measurement of a person’s ability to monitor multiple streams of input as they dynamically change, Robison said.

Picture the cup shuffling trick, where a ball is hidden under one of three cups that are shifted around a surface until the ball is thought to be lost. Rather than one ball, there would be 4 or 5 objects to track, indicating how many pieces of information an individual can process simultaneously.

Robison said the new measures will potentially make military selection and classification tests harder to prepare for.

“As you can imagine, physiological measures are a lot harder to fake than knowledge-based measures, where a person can study the information in advance,” Robison said. “Physiological metrics will help to de-bias the test and make it a more valid predictor of an individual’s ability to handle a demanding, high-stress job.”