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jeudi 17 novembre 2016.


2016 Habilitation à diriger les recherches "submited"

2011 to date : Associate Professor of Human Factors and neuroergonomics at ISAE (Institut de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace) in Toulouse

2010 Ph.D. in Neurosciences (ISAE-SUPAERO "best thesis award")

2006 Master of Neuropsychology ("very good")

2004 Master of Human Factors ("good")

Research areas

Following a "neuroergonomics" approach, at the intersection of neuropsychology, ergonomics and neuroscience, my work concerns the study of human factors, maily the impacts of mental workload and stress/emotions on task performance. The approach involves behavioral, electrophysiological (e.g. EEG) and neuroimaging measures (e.g. fMRI, fNIRS) to characterize mental activity, especially in critical occupations such as piloting and air traffic control.

Mental workload

The way that the brain dynamically allocates mental resources according to the task demand is crucial from a human factors point of view. A strong increase of mental workload, or on the contrary, a long episode of very low mental workload, can increase the likelihood of error.

Monitoring mental workload

The recording of the brain activity can give indications on the amount of mental effort than an individual put in a given task. Light brain imaging techniques such as fNIRS (functional near infra-red spectroscopy) are field deployable, contrary to much more cumbersome system such as fMRI.

Fnirs allow to measure concentration changes of oxygenated hemoglobin (HbO2) and deoxygenated hemoglobin (HHb). As an active brain region is enriched in HbO2, this device gives clues about the level of mental effort-via the amplitude of change in the HbO2 concentration-and about the particular cognitive functions engaged in the task-thanks to the identification of the active brain areas. Below, fNIRS allows to discriminate the mental effort between an easy vs. complex landing scenario in flight simulator

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Negative consequences of a high mental workload

Context of high mental workload can consume a large part of attentional resources, that can no longer be allocated to the processing of other critical stimuli, such as auditory alarms in the cockpit. This phenomenon called “inattentional deafness” is studied thanks to EEG/ERP. The lack of attentional resources is indexed by a decline of the brain reaction to the auditory stimuli, such as in the example below, the “P300” ERP amplitude is disrupted by increased mental workload (low and high load) in comparison to a control condition with no mental load. This pattern of suppression of the brain reaction to the auditory stimuli is correlated with the probability to “miss” auditory stimuli.

Stress and emotion

The analysis of aviation events shows that stress and emotion are important contributors to the occurrence of inappropriate behavior of erroneous decision-making.

Emotion and decision-making in aviation

It has been found that some crews showed a trend in flying through convective storms instead of deviating around them, or persisted in conducting the landing procedure despite meteorological condition that would require a go-around. This latter behavior seems favored by various negative emotional consequences attached to the go-around maneuver such as an increased uncertainty and the financial cost that it generates (passenger delay, kerosene consumption…). We can simulate such negative emotional consequence with a financial system (reward and punishment) in fMRI, as illustrated below.

The results of an experiment revealed that risky decision-makers activate less the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region known to be involved in executive functions and decision-making processes

Emotion and cognition interacts in the prefrontal cortex

In our anxiogenic and stressful world, the maintenance of an optimal cognitive performance is a constant challenge. It is particularly true in complex working environments (e.g. flight deck, air traffic control tower), where individuals have sometimes to cope with a high mental workload and stressful situations.

It is believed that stress can reduce human cognitive efficiency, even in the absence of a visible impact on the task performance. Performance may be protected under stress thanks to compensatory effort, but only at the expense of a cognitive cost. Such psychophysiological cost, invisible at the naked eye, may be indexed via the analysis of the prefrontal cortex activity and the heart rate.

We developed a novel task called “Toulouse N-back Task” that intensively engaged both working memory and mental calculation. During the task, our participants were summited to the threat (or not) of unpredictable aversive sounds. Results revealed that task difficulty (mental effort) was successfully indexed by prefrontal activity measures with fNIRS. Also, the threat of unpredictable aversive sounds provoked an increase brain activity, suggesting a reduced efficiency because of the deleterious effect of the stress. These effects were also supported by the analysis of heart rate, with an increased heart rate in response to the stress and the cognitive load.


The effects of aging on cognitive performance must be better understood, especially to protect those who participate in risky activities such as aviation. Current literature suggests that compensatory strategies may counter cognitive deterioration due to aging.

We found that aging has significant effects on the intellectual performance of each task, with the older group performing worse than young and middle aged individuals. Importantly, older individuals are more impacted when task is more complex.

When comparing low and high performers, older participants showed compensatory brain activation patterns, with high performers demonstrating greater recruitment in key brain regions during the planning and reasoning task. Thanks to enhanced effort and motivation, older individuals are able to increase their performance in neuropsychological task.

Human machine interaction

An important aspect for neuroergonomics is the improvement of the coupling between human and technology. A current work with Air France involves eye tracking technology to improve pilot’s monitoring strategies of the cockpit instruments. The idea is to define new training procedure by providing a personalized feedback to pilots with their own visual circuits.

Experiments are in progress in Air France full flight simulator

Eye tracking technology allows “monitoring the monitoring” and giving indications on the actual information processed by the crew.

Current results tend to show that gaze allocation of pilots who failed to perfectly perform an approach is sub-optimal compared to the most accurate pilots.

Other data highlight the “complacency effect”, when full automatisms are engaged, the crew demonstrates a trend to monitor less often some information, such as the Attitude Indicator (AI) or the Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM).

Research projects

Examples of funded-project that I lead at ISAE

Dassault Aviation chair


AIRTIUS project

MOTA project

Increasing demand in air traffic control efficiency implies higher levels of automation. In particular, airports require automated tools and assistance to ensure an always growing throughput and capacity. Currently, arrival and departure assistance are in operation on several airports, but pushing automation further is promising in many aspects (time and fuel savings, improved overall capacity...). However, if ideas and algorithms exist for automating taxiing or introducing robots on the apron, one remaining challenge to be addressed is the transition period that current concepts cannot deal with.The purpose of this project is to propose a ground control interface which would not only enable full-automation, but also support the transition period during which the human operator would be able to gradually take advantage of the algorithms and automation in a non-intrusive manner. This transition-centred design therefore grants acceptance and overall efficiency. In order to achieve this result, we propose a new and very human -centred HMI for Air Traffic Controllers Officers (ATCO). The initial idea is to use a ground radar image with taxiing aircraft that would also capture ATCO’s intentions and display the path proposed by promising multi-agents distributed algorithms. The user can then either reject, accept the suggestion, or interact with it. ATCO/algorithms interactions will be designed carefull y to make them intuitive, quick, and straightforward. Touch sensitive technology will insure input can be done on the flow, at no cost and comprehensively. Amongst many other important benefits, this project make it possible to evaluate auto-taxiing benefits in real conditions.

The results of the entire experiment campaign show that the Modern Taxiing platform can increase the overall performance of ground taxiing, with greater thoroughput and less time in the ground sector. The use of the tugs appears to reduce the technology gains, with the greatest performance occurring when using only the interface. However, the advantages due to technology also come at a price, with an increased in perceived workload although the physiological response does not significantly vary. The technology is still currently too immature for accepted use by the air traffic controllers, but comments made during debriefing suggests that with improvement, the participants would be accepting of this new technology in an operational context. The technology also appears to assist participants during some operational events, namely, in managing the impact of a towed aircraft, a change in configuration, and a pilot error.



10 avenue Edouard Belin

31055 Toulouse

Tel : 00 33 (0)5 61 33 81 28

mail : mickael.causseATisae.fr

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