A chess game usually features a number of phases with many mistakes appearing when the 'crisis' has passed. So it was interesting to find the following paper discussing what appears to be the same effect in air traffic controllers. I've also heard that for drivers most accidents happen a mile from home.

Simply being aware of this effect should help because you can 'force yourself' to be more vigilant. But this may also introduce issues such as health and energy levels - the more tired someone is the harder it will be.

"The analysis of the incidents suggested that they were happening via what may be called ‘layered situation awareness’. Layered situation awareness relates to the need to handle significant traffic and their demands, against a background of other traffic. The controller, in order to deliver high capacity and a quality service, focuses on traffic that has short term demands, e.g. a need to climb or descend, or to be at a certain lower sector exit flight level, yet wanting to remain at a cruising altitude as long as possible. The controller therefore (mentally) suppresses or (in the extreme case) ‘filters out’ not only unassumed aircraft (traffic no longer under his or her command), but also certain assumed aircraft that are relatively ‘invariant’ in their passage across the sector (e.g. they are staying at cruise level). These aircraft are akin to ‘blind spots’ – they are not seen. This approach to controlling traffic is borne from a proactive approach which is continually looking ahead, using a more complex strategy perhaps, than in lower workload air traffic control centres. This more complex approach which is partly proactive and partly opportunistic, and is focused on giving a good service to aircraft, means the controller is thinking ahead much of the time, rather than focusing exactly on what is on the radar screen at the time. This theory could explain the incidents at busy and medium times. However, in order to explain the incidents that occurred at non-busy times, it needed to be expanded. The first additional aspect was that this way of working would carry over into low and/or medium workload times after a busy period, when the vigilance ‘resources’ of the controller are lower or even depleted. Therefore, it is suggested that this filtering or suppression process becomes ‘second nature’, and so is more likely to continue to operate when the controller is tired or the normal required vigilance level drops (and the controller is ‘under-stimulated’). It could also operate when the controller is less experienced, and has not yet had what may be called a ‘correctional’ incident that stops controllers from going too far when being ‘proactive’."





Speak your mind

10 Comments so far

  1. Steve Leslie on March 10, 2009 7:44 pm

    No limit poker tournament style has been characterized as hours of boredom interrupted by moments of terror. At any moment, you will be challenged to commit all your chips in a win or lose outcome. Small tournaments by today's standards require you to play for hours sometimes all day and into the evening to cash. Big tournaments may take days to complete. The World Series of Poker now last 6 days to get to the finals. They are truly a marathon grind and a tremendous test of endurance and fortitude. You will spend most of your time, throwing away hands. Depending on the run of cards, you may spend numerous consecutive hours throwing cards away. The early stages of a tournament require survival. The middle stages is where you make your moves. The end game is where great luck comes into play and many showdown hands reveal themselves. Throughout this whole ordeal, the true professionals are like alligators, lurking in the weeds, observing, sitting quietly and watching for opportunities which may arise and where they may strike to devour an opponent.. They make inaction a weapon. See Zen and the Art of Poker by Phillips for expanded discussion on this. This is why in many respects tournament poker has become a young man's game due to the endurance factor. I have fallen asleep at a table before, a not uncommon thing to do. Being able to concentrate in a room full of men and women who may not have groomed themselves nor bathed recently, with a great amount of theatrics and drama all about you is a true challenge of concentration. In Ed Spec. the Chair describes his ordeal of trading for over 2 days with no sleep. Never wavering and watching the screen for inconsistencies to arise to make a profitable trade. Sitting and staring at a screen for someone somewhere to make a move that may upset the delicate balance. Constantly battling inner demons and dialogue. Constantly fighting against a fight or flight impulse. That chapter alone is worth the cost of the book. I think Tom Cruise said it best in Top Gun when he was in a dogfight near the end of the movie. He had a choice to make, either pull our or stay in the fight. He finally came to the point of understanding "I am not leaving my wing man."

  2. Kristian Blom on March 10, 2009 11:58 pm

    It seems one does spend more time driving near one's home, period…

  3. Nigel Davies on March 11, 2009 2:22 am

    Yes, we don't know if there's anything until studies have been done which will standardise the figure. But the possibility that this effect exists there too makes it sensible to try and increase one's vigilance before they've actually tested it. Nigel

  4. david on March 11, 2009 6:36 am

    sounds much like what the best athletes (the ones we see on TV, signing the billion dollar contracts)do during “critical moments of competition”…they don’t choke. They are able to focus on the situation at hand, often seeing before it happens, filtering out all negativity. A prime market example of being alert is seen at 4:00 am this morning, that it is was a really good time to go long the snp futures. Unfortunately I didn’t arrive to my screen til 5:30……………

  5. Don Chu on March 11, 2009 9:47 am

    Nigel, here is a little something I wrote regarding air traffic control and trading some time back. My comment was made in the larger context of Dr. Steenbarger’s study on Implicit Learning as applied to trading performance; the meeting point being a purposed ‘change in tempo’ (ie. an intended screen blank-out of air control elements), leading to a ‘mini-crisis’ demanding an immediate resolution from the air traffic controller.
    [Dr. Steenbarger’s study and references may be relevant to your thoughts above]

    I have no special insight into being an ATC, and look forward to hearing the experience of others with practical knowledge in the field.

    “Don said…

    The moving dots test sounds alot like part of the multi-layered testing and interview process used in air-traffic-controller recruitment:
    watching dots move across the screen, a sudden blank-out, then tasked to place the current dot position after an unexpected time interval;
    given a set of rules (eg. aircraft velocity, wind speed, altitude, angle of approach etc), to sort different scenarios and to sequence aircraft landing accurately;
    and others.

    I learnt later that ATC testing were carried out to measure important skills like time pressure reactions, attention diversion, time monitoring & estimation, pattern recognition, coordination/prioritisation abilities.

    While I eventually did not take up the ATC job (confession: I applied in a lark, having always been intrigued after watching the amazing Billy Bob and John Cusack in Pushing Tin), it was a revelation in a later interview for a trading position. The similarities in the skill- and mind-sets required as an ATC or as a trader was personally insightful.

    While I may have missed out on pushing tonnes of tin across the skies as an air-traffic jockey, I’m still watching colourful blips and lines on multiple screens.
    And the biggest upside is that the worst that can happen is I lose money for my firm and/or for myself. Almost no lives are on the line when I do make trading mistakes.

    And well, the money is better.”

    [I have always been fascinated by this subject, having spent many enjoyable days and nights (even now as an adult) watching and mapping the landing/takeoff corridors used by the local airport; as well as timing and counting the interval cadence of the successive planes.

    On some busy nights, you can see the rush of approaching planes from various directions: from the western hemisphere, east from across the Pacific, north from Asia, from Down Under – all gracefully playing under the baton of the ATC and eventually melding from their diverse orthogonal vectors of directions, velocities, altitudes into a beautiful straight downward line approaching the airport (sometimes stretching as many as five planes into the horizon).

    It is a delight to watch such technical artistry at work, painted against the ever-changing canvas of the skies and a privilege to be able to get into the head of the ATC-artist, if only for a moment.]

  6. Gangineni Dhananjhay on March 11, 2009 10:29 am

    My favorite excerpt and handout for all MBA (Finance) students before starting a class on Forex or Financial Markets is "The Old Speculator and the Yen" from EdSpec. The mind starts playing games once you are on long wait with the market. Particularly in India where I am forced some times to trade in the Brokers' office which is not very different from a poker table. The situation is exactly like the post " How not to run a trading Operation " . No wonder public always loses more money than they have any right to. With unsolicited, free opinions flying around, cries and howls of a missed trade recognised by hind sight, reckless regret of past mistakes, criminal recounting of past price in comparison to present prices (as if price has an obligation to return with out regard for the operating context) losses are guaranteed to happen.

  7. George Parkanyi on March 11, 2009 12:21 pm

    I find that the mind definitely takes short-cuts and filters aggressively. Since I blog a fair amount these days, I find that as I write I’m generally also thinking ahead. Even though I stop to make corrections as I go, when I re-read I’m amazed at the amount of not only typos, but missing words altogether, and/or words that aren’t even supposed to be there. (It just happened now in at least 3 places.)

    An interesting part of it is substitution. Sometimes I find that I have substituted a similar word, probably because my mind is used to typing it and finishes the wrong word “automatically” as I start to type out the first few letters. (Either that or I’m going senile.)

    That’s why I’m now much more careful with emails at work. :)

    I think this filtering/masking definitely would apply to other situations where there is an established legacy of experience and familiarity - including trading.

  8. George Parkanyi on March 11, 2009 12:37 pm

    Pursuant to my previous thought, one time I almost ran off the road when the sportscaster I was listening to on the radio made the unfortunate transposition of the words “punt kicker”.

    That was funny enough; but what really destroyed me was the 3 or 4 second pause immmediately afterwards.

  9. Larry Tribe on March 11, 2009 7:35 pm

    Poker is for pikers. Do it only if you want a minimum wage job staying up all night with not-so-bright people. The big boys concern themselves with more important matters. Markets moved $50 trillion this year, and you want to sit around a table all night to make $100?

  10. Steve Leslie on March 13, 2009 9:34 am

    As the Chairman and many other contributors to this website have shown there is value to studying games, sports, phenomena and other events to transfer such knowledge to trading markets. There is also great value to gastronomical studies esp barbecue. To say poker is for pikers is obviously an absurd and ridiculous statement. It is not even worth defending. However, I will repeat that if the critic would like to offer original material to post here it is always welcome. I doubt we will see anything however.


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