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Determining the psychophysiological responses of military aircrew when exposed to acute disorientation stimuli
  1. José Francisco Tornero Aguilera1,2,
  2. J Gil-Cabrera1 and
  3. V J Clemente-Suárez1,3
  1. 1 Department of Sport Sciences, Universidad Europea de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
  2. 2 CESCA, Research Centre in Applied Combat, Toledo, Spain
  3. 3 Grupo de Investigación en Cultura, Educación y Sociedad, Universidad de la Costa, Barranquilla, Colombia
  1. Correspondence to V J Clemente-Suárez, Sport Science, European University of Madrid, Madrid 28670, Spain; vctxente{at}


Introduction Exposure to enviromental flight conditions may impair performance and physical integrity, thus training in simulated environments it is a key factor. This research aimed to study the psychophysiological response, cortical arousal and autonomic modulation of pilots and medical aircrew personnel during disorientation exposure, considering gender, experience, flying hours and body mass index (BMI) as influencial variables.

Methods A total of 47 soldiers (37 men and 10 women, 22 medical aircrew personnel and 25 fighter pilots) of Spanish Air Forces faced 25 min of vestibular, proprioceptive and visual disorientation.

Results Disorientation exposure elicited an increased psychophysiological response, significant increases in isometric hand strength, cortical arousal, autonomic modulation, perceived stress and effort in both groups while a significant decrease in respiratory muscle capacity and blood oxygen saturation in the medical aircrew group were found. Cross-sectional analysis showed gender differences, males presented greater parasympathetic activity and strength. Larger BMI was associated with greater levels and perception of stress as well as lower cardiovascular performance and sympathetic modulation. Furthermore, experience, previous training and larger flying hours correlated with greater parasympathetic modulation.

Conclusion Disorientation exposure produces an increase in cortical arousal and decrease in the parasympathetic nervous system either in pilots and medical aircrew personnel. In addition, medical aircrew personnel are less adapted to disorientation stimulus presenting significantly higher psychophysiological stress response, thus complementary physical training should be mandatory.

  • education & training (see medical education & training)
  • quality in health care
  • physiology

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  • Contributors All authors equally contributed to the present research.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval STANAG 3114 'Aeromedical Training of Flight Personnel' from the NATO.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. N/A.

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