Effects of wearing aircrew protective clothing on physiological and cognitive responses under various ambient conditions.Ergonomics. 2003 Jun 20; 46(8):780-99.E
Heat stress can be a significant problem for pilots wearing protective clothing during flights, because they provide extra insulation which prevents evaporative heat loss. Heat stress can influence human cognitive activity, which might be critical in the flying situation, requiring efficient and error-free performance. This study investigated the effect of wearing protective clothing under various ambient conditions on physiological and cognitive performance. On several occasions, eight subjects were exposed for 3 h to three different environmental conditions; 0 degrees C at 80% RH, 23 degrees C at 63% RH and 40 degrees C at 19% RH. The subjects were equipped with thermistors, dressed as they normally do for flights (including helmet, two layers of underwear and an uninsulated survival suit). During three separate exposures the subjects carried out two cognitive performance tests (Vigilance test and DG test). Performance was scored as correct, incorrect, missed reaction and reaction time. Skin temperature, deep body temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, temperature and humidity inside the clothing, sweat loss, subjective sensation of temperature and thermal comfort were measured. Rises in rectal temperature, skin temperature, heart rate and body water loss indicated a high level of heat stress in the 40 degrees C ambient temperature condition in comparison with 0 degrees C and 23 degrees C. Performance of the DG test was unaffected by ambient temperature. However, the number of incorrect reactions in the Vigilance test was significantly higher at 40 degrees C than at 23 degrees C (p = 0.006) or 0 degrees C (p = 0.03). The effect on Vigilance performance correlated with changes in deep-body temperature, and this is in accordance with earlier studies that have demonstrated that cognitive performance is virtually unaffected unless environmental conditions are sufficient to change deep body temperature.