Journal of Computing in Higher Education

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 196–214 | Cite as

Can simulator immersion change cognitive style? Results from a cross-sectional study of field-dependence–independence in air traffic control students

  • Richard N. Van EckEmail author
  • Hongxia Fu
  • Paul V. J. Drechsel


Air traffic control (ATC) operations are critical to the U.S. aviation infrastructure, making ATC training a critical area of study. Because ATC performance is heavily dependent on visual processing, it is important to understand how to screen for or promote relevant visual processing abilities. While conventional wisdom has maintained that such abilities are largely innate and stable (i.e., not impacted by training or experience), recent research has begun to question this assumption. For example, intelligence has been thought to be stable, yet intelligence scores on the Ravens Progressive matrices (RPM) change over time. Because the RPM, like ATC, relies on visual pattern recognition, one hypothesized reason for these changes is the increased exposure to visually intensive technologies like videogames. Other constructs such as field-dependence/independence (FD-I) which, like the RPM, rely on visual pattern detection and are thought to be stable, might therefore also be affected by visual technology exposure. Two studies sought to examine the role of videogame play on FD-I and ATC simulation performance by ATC students at a Midwestern university. No benefits of videogame play were found. However, more fourth-year ATC students were field-independent (FI) than were first-year students and the general population. Findings suggest that exposure to the ATC training program over 4 years may result in more FI students, and that FD-I may not be stable. Possible explanations and implications are discussed.


Games Videogames Cognitive style Field-independence Field-dependence Air traffic control 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard N. Van Eck
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hongxia Fu
    • 2
  • Paul V. J. Drechsel
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Medicine and Health SciencesUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA
  2. 2.College Research and Evaluation Services Team (CREST), Mary Lou Fulton Teachers CollegeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.College of Aerospace SciencesUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA

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