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Personality Profiles in Aviation.

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Do commercial pilots have a common personality type? A 2004 report by NASA’s Langley Research Center says they do.

The study was conducted with data from 93 commercial pilots and evaluated personality types as they relate to pilot performance and error management. The pilots were given the personality assessment known as the NEO-PI-R, which stands for NEO-Personality Inventory-Revised. The NEO-PI-R method examines five main personality traits, called the Five Factor Model, also known as the Big Five.

According to researchers, the five factors include:


1. NEUROTICISM

Neuroticism refers to emotional stability and level of psychological distress. It includes six facets: anxiety, anger and hostility, depression, self-conscientiousness, impulsiveness and vulnerability. A “high” score in neuroticism indicates a predisposition for psychological distress.

In general, pilots in this study scored very low on the neuroticism scale, meaning they’re not anxious and are calm, even in times of stress. In addition, most pilots are confident in their ability to handle a difficult situation, which is a critical trait for pilots to have, especially during an emergency.


2. EXTRAVERSION

The tendency to be outgoing and enjoy the company of others is known as extraversion. The facets involved with extraversion include warmth, assertiveness, gregariousness, activity, excitement-seeking and positive emotions.

For the most part, pilots are extroverts. They tend to enjoy socialising, seek excitement and exhibit more aggressive behaviours than others.


3. OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE

High O individuals are curious, imaginative, and willing to entertain novel ideas and unconventional values. Openness to experience is not discussed in the pilot study because the data did not found significant correlation.


4. AGREEABLENESS

Agreeableness includes facets like trust, straightforwardness, altruism, modesty and tender-mindedness. A very agreeable person is trusting, helping, kind and forgiving and thinks the same of others. Low scorers in agreeableness are cynical and distrusting.

It’s this category in which pilots get their reputation for being arrogant and hard-headed. At the same time, they tend to be straightforward and honest.


5. CONSCIENTIOUSNESS

Being conscientious means being organised, persistent and goal-oriented. Very conscientious people are usually reliable and they work hard. And they are always on time. The conscientiousness category has six facets: competence, order, dutifulness, achievement-striving, self-discipline and deliberation.

You might guess that pilots score high in this area. They are competent, neat and organised and they work hard to achieve their goals. They are highly self-disciplined, which according to the study is a good thing for pilots working with automation. This personality type is more accurate and disciplined with managing and monitoring automation. Finally, pilots are cautious and deliberate.


The conclusion of the study, based on the results of the 93 commercial pilots, found that there is a pilot personality profile. A typical pilot, according to the study, is one who is “low in anxiety, vulnerability, angry hostility, impulsiveness, and depression. This person also tends be very conscientious; being high in deliberation, achievement-striving, competence, and dutifulness. He also tends to be trusting and straightforward. Finally, he is an active individual with a high level of assertiveness.


A typical pilot, according to the study, is one who is “low in anxiety, vulnerability, angry hostility, impulsiveness, and depression. This person also tends be very conscientious; being high in deliberation, achievement-striving, competence, and dutifulness. He also tends to be trusting and straightforward. Finally, he is an active individual with a high level of assertiveness.”

The evidence makes clear that the type of person who decides to become a pilot shares certain character traits and these groups are of interest for me.


The 24 pilot personality traits


The US Airline Pilots Association has conducted studies on the pilot personality. They concluded that pilots tend to exhibit 24 traits. Obviously, every pilot won’t have every trait, but many tend to have at least half of them. How many of these pilot personality traits do you think you have?


  1. Physically and mentally healthy

  2. Reality based

  3. Self-sufficient

  4. Difficulty trusting anyone to do a job as well as themselves

  5. Suspicious

  6. Intelligent but not intellectual

  7. A fondness for ‘toys’ (classic cars, big watches)

  8. Good at taking things apart and putting them back together

  9. Concrete, practical, linear thinkers rather than abstract, philosophical, or theoretical

  10. More analytical than emotional

  11. Reality-oriented

  12. Goal-oriented

  13. Short-term goal orientation and not long-term goal driven

  14. Bi-modal (black/white, on/off, good/bad, safe/unsafe)

  15. Tendency to modify environment instead of behaviour

  16. Hunger for excitement

  17. Competitive

  18. Do not handle failure well

  19. Low tolerance for personal imperfection

  20. Long memories of perceived injustices.

  21. Draw conclusions about people at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden conversation.

  22. Tendency to avoid introspection

  23. Difficulty revealing, expressing, or even recognising feelings.

  24. When experiencing unwanted feelings, a tendency to mask them with humour or anger.

Are you seeing yourself in these traits? The paradox is that those traits are introspective, abstract and involve considering personal introspection, none of which the typical pilot does very well at least according to the studies.


Fly safely!



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