Pilot's invulnerablility perceptions in general aviation

Perceived invulnerability (PI) in GA pilots

It is considered that pilots demonstrate PI and that this affects their ability to perceive risks appropriately. Lee & Gilbey examined the affects of group polarisation theory and whether this increased the level of pilots PI during multi crew flight operations in general aviation (2010).
The study was conducted on general aviation pilots in New Zealand. This study had two objectives firstly to assess the levels of PI in pilots and secondly to establish if this level of PI increased in the presence of other pilots.

Further analysis of this articles findings was made that explored weather two pilots are safer than one, specifically following group discussion was pilots PI reduced. This data file can be found here Pilots - Are Two safer than One?


The study indentified that general aviation pilots have a high level of PI.
The study however did not identify any evidence that PI increased above initial levels following pilot discussion.
The following table is a summary of results from the study.

Table 1. Perceived Invulnerability in GA pilots
Type of Questionnaire p value Interpretation
Individual < 0.05 high perception
Following group discussion < 0.05 high perception


Research approach

  • This was an exploratory study of the effect of group polarisation on PI of general aviation pilots.


Using information from a subsequent research article which had used the results of this study I derived the following sample information. The subsequent research article is called Two pilots may be safer than one: The effect of group discussion on perceived invulnerability

  • A convenient sample of 78 General Aviation pilots participated in the research.
  • The sample had the following demographics. Female pilots (n=14) and male pilots (n = 64). Pilot ages varied between 18 and 59 years old (Mean = 25.94) and total flight hours between 30 minutes and 5,000 hours (Mean = 662.38).
  • Pilots were only chosen from flight training organisations. A significant proportion of other general aviation operation types were not included in the research.
  • Flight training is primarily conducted under a single pilot in command (instructor/student) and would not be considered multi crew flight operations.
  • Pilots with as little as 30 minutes flight time were used. Pilots of this very low experience level do not have any multi crew flight experience at all.


  • The dependant variable in the study was the level of PI.
  • Independent variables included: allowance of group discussion, pilot experience and pilot age.


  • Pilots were invited to undertake a two part questionnaire comprising of nine items. The items are unknown and may or may not have been aviation related.
  • The questionnaire required pilots to grade each item of invulnerability on a 9 point Likert-type scale.


  • Pilots from seven different flight training organisations in the North Island of New Zealand were sourced to conduct the questionnaire.
  • The first part required pilots to answer the questionnaire individually to determine each individual’s level of PI. In the second part pilots were told to discuss their individual answers to the questionnaire with one other pilot then following discussion repeat the same questionnaire to ascertain the variable.
  • The means by which the pilots where instructed on completing the questionnaire is unknown (electronically, face to face).

Data analysis

  • The results of all participants were analysed using a within subjects comparison to identify if individuals perceived invulnerability was affected before and after discussion.
  • Two one sample t-tests (two tailed, test value 5) using the mean scores of the first and second questionnaires determined the levels of perceived invulnerability.
  • A paired sample t-test was then used to establish if a relationship was present (significance threshold < 0.05)

Generalization potential

Given the exploratory approach of the research and the small sample and its convenience, the results from this study may not have enough scope for generalization. Result generalization is applicable to pilots from flight training organsations in New Zealand.

  • The roles of the pilots in the study is not known. The sample could be comprised of predominately students and/or instructors and may therefore be generalized to that particular role.

1. LEE Seung Yong, GILBEY Andrew, (2010). Increased risk of multi-crew operations: examining the effect of group polarisation on perceived invulnerability in general aviation pilots Aviation Education and Research Proceedings, vol 2010, pp 13-15. ISSN:1176-0729.
2. LEE Seung Yong, GILBEY Andrew, (2011). Two pilots may be safer than one: The effect of group discussion on perceived invulnerability. Aviation Education and Research Proceedings, vol 2011, pp 43-44. ISSN 1176- 0729.

Want to know more?

Wikipedia - Group Polarisation
This Wikipedia page offers further information on Group polarisation

Aviation Knowledge - Dangerous team thinking styles in aviation
This Aviation Knowledge page provides further information on impacts of group polarisation from a different perspective.

Massey University - 2010 Symposium Proceedings: You can read further full articles by Andrew GILBEY, PEREZGONZALEZ Jose D & TANI Kawtar (2010).

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