As indicated in Chapter 1, learning is a change of behavior resulting from experience. To successfully accomplish the task of helping to bring about this change, the instructor must know why people act the way they do. A knowledge of basic human needs and defense mechanisms is essential for organizing student activities and promoting a productive learning experience.

Control of Human Behavior

The relationship between the instructor and the students has a profound impact on how much the students learn. To students, the instructor usually is a symbol of authority. Students expect the instructor to exercise certain controls, and they tend to recognize and submit to authority as a valid means of control. The instructor's challenge is to know what controls are best for the existing circumstances. The instructor should create an atmosphere that enables and encourages students to help themselves.

Every student works toward a goal of some kind. It may be success itself; it may simply be a grade or other form of personal recognition. The successful instructor directs and controls the behavior of the students and guides them toward a goal. This is a part of the process of directing the students' actions to modify their behavior. Without the instructor's active intervention, the students may become passive and perhaps resistant to learning. The controls the instructor exercises-how much, how far, to what degree-should be based on more than trial and error.

Some interesting generalizations have been made about motivation and human nature. While these assumptions are typically applied to industrial management, they have implications for the aviation instructor as well.

The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play and rest. The average person does not inherently dislike work. Depending on conditions, work may be a source of satisfaction and, if so, it will be performed voluntarily. On the other hand, when work is a form of punishment, it will be avoided, if possible.
Most people will exercise self-direction and self- control in the pursuit of goals to which they are committed.
Commitment to goals relates directly to the reward associated with their achievement, the most significant of which is probably the satisfaction of ego.
Under proper conditions, the average person learns, not only to accept, but also to seek responsibility. Shirking responsibility and lack of ambition are not inherent in human nature. They are usually the consequences of experience.
The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of common problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
Under the conditions of modern life, the intellectual potentialities of the average person are only partially used.

An instructor who accepts these assumptions should recognize the student's vast, untapped potential. At the same time? ingenuity must be used in discovering how to realize the potentialities of the student. The responsibility rests squarely on the instructor's shoulders. If the student is perceived as lazy, indifferent, unresponsive, uncooperative, and antagonistic, these basic assumptions imply that the instructor's methods of control are at fault. The raw material is there, in most cases, and the shaping and directing of it lie in the hands of those who have the responsibility of controlling it.

How to mold a solid, healthy, productive relationship with students depends, of course, on the instructor's knowledge of students as human beings and of the needs, drives, and desires they continually try to satisfy in one way or another. Some of their needs and drives are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Human Needs

The instructor should always be aware of the fact that students are human beings. The needs of students, and of all mankind, have been studied by psychologists and categorized in a number of ways. In 1938, a U.S. psychologist, Henry A. Murray, published a catalog of human motives, which he called needs. These needs were described as being either primary (biological, innate) or secondary (learned, acquired); they were seen as a force related to behavior and goals. Among the motives that Murray discussed were what he identified as needs for achievement, affiliation, power, dependence, and succor (the need to be taken care of), as well as many others. During the 1950s, Abraham Maslow organized human needs into levels of importance. They originally were called a hierarchy of human motives, but are now commonly referred to as a hierarchy of human needs.

In the intervening years since the 1950s, several other theories on human needs have been published, but psychologists have not adopted any particular one.Meanwhile, Maslow's hierarchical categorization remains a popular and acceptable concept.


At the bottom of the pyramid is the broadest, most basic category, the physical needs. Each person is first concerned with a need for food, rest, and protection from the elements. Until these needs are satisfied, a person cannot concentrate fully on learning, self- expression, or any other tasks. Instructors should monitor their students to make sure that their basic physical needs have been met. A hungry or tired student may not be able to perform as expected. Once a need is satisfied, it no longer provides motivation. Thus, the person strives to satisfy the needs of the next higher level.


The safety needs are protection against danger, threats, deprivation, and are labeled by some as the security needs. Regardless of the label, however, they are real, and student behavior is influenced by them. This is especially true in flight training and aviation maintenance where safety is a major concern.


When individuals are physically comfortable and do not feel threatened, they seek to satisfy their social needs. These are to belong, to associate, and to give and receive friendship and love. An example of the social need might apply to the spouse of a professional pilot. In this case, the need to be included in conversation and other pilot-related activities could induce the spouse to learn how to fly. Since students are usually out of their normal surroundings during flight training, their need for association and belonging will be more pronounced. Instructors should make every effort to help new students feel at ease and to reinforce their decision to pursue aviation.


The egoistic needs usually have a strong influence on the instructor-student relationship. These needs consist of at least two types: those that relate to one's self-esteem, such as self-confidence, independence, achievement, competence, and knowledge; and the needs that relate to one's reputation, such as status, recognition, appreciation, and respect of associates. The egoistic need may be the main reason for a student's interest in aviation training.


At the apex of the hierarchy of human needs is self-fulfillment. This includes realizing one's own potential for continued development, and for being creative in the broadest sense of that term. Maslow included various cognitive and aesthetic goals in this highest level. Self-fulfillment for a student should offer the greatest challenge to the instructor. Aiding another in realizing self-fulfillment is perhaps the most rewarding accomplishment for an instructor.

In summary, instructors should strive to help students satisfy their human needs in a manner that will create a healthy learning environment. In this type of environment, students experience fewer frustrations and, there- fore, can devote more attention to their studies. Fulfillment of needs can be a powerful motivation in complex learning situations.

Defense Mechanisms

The concept of defense mechanisms was introduced by Freud in the 1890s. In general, defense mechanisms are subconscious, almost automatic, ego-protecting reactions to unpleasant situations. People use these defenses to soften feelings of failure, to alleviate feelings of guilt, and to protect their sense of personal worth or adequacy. Originally, Freud described a mechanism which is now commonly called repression. Since then, other defense mechanisms have gradually been added. In some cases, more than one name has been attached to a particular type of defense mechanism. In addition, it is not always easy to differentiate between defenses which are closely related. Thus, some confuqion often occurs in identifying the different types.


With compensation, students often attempt to disguise the presence of a weak or undesirable quality by emphasizing a more positive one. They also may try to reduce tension by accepting and developing a less preferred but more attainable objective instead of a more preferred but less attainable objective. Students who regard themselves as unattractive may develop exceptionally winning personalities to compensate. Students may say they would rather spend their evenings studying aircraft systems than anything else, but, in fact, they would rather be doing almost anything except aircraft systems study.


With projection, students relegate the blame for their own shortcomings, mistakes, and transgressions to others or attribute their motives, desires, characteristics, and impulses to others. The athlete who fails to make the team may feel sure the coach was unfair, or the tennis player who examines the racket after a missed shot is projecting blame. When students say, "Everybody will cheat on an exam if given the chance," they are projecting.


If students cannot accept the real reasons for their behavior, they may rationalize. This device permits them to substitute excuses for reasons; moreover, they can make those excuses plausible and acceptable to themselves. Rationalization is a subconscious technique for justifying actions that otherwise would be unacceptable. When true rationalization takes place, individuals sincerely believe in their excuses. The excuses seem real and justifiable to the individual.

Denial of Reality

Occasionally students may ignore or refuse to acknowledge disagreeable realities. They may turn away from unpleasant sights, refuse to discuss unpopular topics, or reject criticism.

Reaction formation

Sometimes individuals protect themselves from dangerous desires by not only repressing them, but actually developing conscious attitudes and behavior patterns that are just the opposite. A student may develop a who-cares-how-other-people-feel attitude to cover up feelings of loneliness and a hunger for acceptance.


Students often escape from frustrating situations by taking flight, physical or mental. To take flight physically, students may develop symptoms or ailments that give them satisfactory excuses for removing themselves from frustration. More frequent than physical flights are mental flights, or daydreaming. Mental flight provides a simple and satisfying escape from problems. If students get sufficient satisfaction from daydreaming, they may stop trying to achieve their goals altogether. When carried to extremes, the world of fantasy and the world of reality can become so confused that the dreamer cannot distinguish one from the other. This mechanism, when carried to the extreme, is referred to as fantasy.


Everyone gets angry occasionally. Anger is a normal, universal human emotion. Angry people may shout, swear, slam a door, or give in to the heat of emotions in a number of ways. They become aggressive against something or somebody. After a cooling-off period, they may see their actions as childish. In a classroom, shop, or airplane, such extreme behavior is relatively infrequent, partly because students are taught to repress their emotions in the interest of safety. Because of safety concerns or social strictures, student aggressiveness may be expressed in subtle ways. They may ask irrelevant questions, refuse to participate in the activities of the class, or disrupt activities within their own group. If students cannot deal directly with the cause of their frustration, they may vent their aggressiveness on a neutral object or person not related to the problem.


Students also may become so frustrated that they lose interest and give up. They may no longer believe it profitable or even possible to go on, and as a result, they accept defeat. The most obvious and apparent cause for this form of resignation takes place when, after completing an early phase of a course without grasping the fundamentals, a student becomes bewildered and lost in the more advanced phases. From that point on, learning is negligible although the student may go through the motions of participating.

More information on these and other defense mechanisms, such as fantasy, repression, displacement, emotional insulation, regression, and introjection, can be obtained from a good psychology text. Instructors should recognize that most defense mechanisms fall within the realm of normal behavior and serve a useful purpose. However, in some cases, they may be associated with a potentially serious mental health problem. Since defense mechanisms involve some degree of self-deception and distortion of reality, they do not solve problems; they alleviate symptoms, not causes. Moreover, because defense mechanisms operate on a subconscious level, they are not subject to normal conscious checks and controls. Once an individual realizes there is a conscious reliance on one of these devices, behavior ceases to be a subconscious adjustment mechanism and becomes, instead, an ineffective way of satisfying a need.

It may be difficult for an instructor to identify excessive reliance on defense mechanisms by a student, but a personal crisis or other stressful event is usually the cause. For example, a death in the family, a divorce, or even a failing grade on an important test may trigger harmful defensive reactions. Physical symptoms such as a change in personality, angry outbursts, depression, or a general lack of interest may point to a problem. Drug or alcohol abuse also may become apparent. Less obvious indications may include social withdrawal, preoccupation with certain ideas, or an inability to concentrate.

Some people seem to have the proper attitude and skills necessary to cope with a crisis while others do not. An instructor needs to be familiar with typical defense mechanisms and have some knowledge of related behavioral problems. A perceptive instructor can help by using common sense and talking over the problem with the student. The main objective should be to restore motivation and self-confidence. It should be noted that the human psyche is fragile and could be damaged by inept measures. Therefore, in severe cases involving the possibility of deep psychological problems, timely and skillful help is needed. In this event, the instructor should recommend that the student use the services of a professional counselor.

The Flight Instructor as a Practical Psychologist

While it is obviously impossible for every flight instructor to be an accomplished psychologist, there are a number of additional considerations which will assist in learning to analyze students before and during each lesson. As already implied, flight instructors must also be able to evaluate student personality to effectively develop and use techniques appropriate for instruction.


Anxiety is probably the most significant psychological factor affecting flight instruction. This is true because flying is a potentially threatening experience for persons who are not accustomed to being off the ground. The fear of falling is universal in human beings. Anxiety also is a factor in maintenance training because lives may depend on consistently doing it right the first time. The following paragraphs are primarily concerned with flight instruction and student reactions.

Anxiety is described by Webster as "a state of mental uneasiness arising from fear . . .'' It results from the fear of anything, real or imagined, which threatens the per- son who experiences it, and may have a potent effect on actions and the ability to learn from perceptions.

The responses to anxiety vary extensively. They range from a hesitancy to act to the impulse to do something even if it's wrong. Some people affected by anxiety will react appropriately, adequately, and more rapidly than they would in the absence of threat. Many, on the other hand, may freeze and be incapable of doing anything to correct the situation which has caused their anxiety. Others may do things without rational thought or reason.

Both normal and abnormal reactions to anxiety are of concern to the flight instructor. The normal reactions are significant because they indicate a need for special instruction to relieve the anxiety. The abnormal reactions are even more important because they may signify a deep-seated problem.

Anxiety can be countered by reinforcing students' enjoyment of flying, and by teaching them to cope with their fears. An effective technique is to treat fears as a normal reaction, rather than ignoring them. Keep in mind that anxiety for student pilots usually is associated with certain types of flight operations and maneuvers. Instructors should introduce these maneuvers with care, so that students know what to expect, and what their reactions should be. When introducing stalls, for example, instructors should first review the aerodynamic principles and explain how stalls affect flight characteristics. Then, carefully describe the sensations to be expected, as well as the recovery procedures.

Student anxieties can be minimized throughout training by emphasizing the benefits and pleasurable experiences which can be derived from flying, rather than by continuously citing the unhappy consequences of faulty performances. Safe flying practices should be presented as conducive to satisfying, efficient, uninterrupted operations, rather than as necessary only to prevent catastrophe.

Normal Reactions to Stress

When a threat is recognized or imagined, the brain alerts the body. The adrenal gland activates hormones which prepare the body to meet the threat, or to retreat from it. This often is called the fight or flight syndrome. The heart rate quickens, certain blood vessels constrict to divert blood to the organs which will need it, and numerous other physiological changes take place.

Normal individuals begin to respond rapidly and exactly, within the limits of their experience and training. Many responses are automatic, which points out the need for proper training in emergency operations prior to an actual emergency. The affected individual thinks rationally, ants rapidly, and is extremely sensitive to all aspects of the surroundings.

Abormal Reactions to Stress

Reactions to stress may produce abnormal responses in some people. With them, response to anxiety or stress may be completely absent or at least inadequate. Their responses may be random or illogical, or they may do more than is called for by the situation.

During flight instruction, instructors normally are the only ones who can observe students when they are under pressure. Instructors, therefore, are in a position to differentiate between safe and unsafe piloting actions. Instructors also may be able to detect potential psychological problems. The following student reactions are indicative of abnormal reactions to stress. None of them provides an absolute indication, but the presence of any of them under conditions of stress is reason for careful instructor evaluation.

Inappropriate reactions, such as extreme over- cooperation, painstaking self-control, inappropriate laughter or singing, and very rapid changes in emotions.
Marked changes in mood on different lessons, such as excellent morale followed by deep depression.
Severe anger directed toward the flight instructor, service personnel, and others.

In difficult situations, flight instructors must carefully examine student responses and their own responses to the students. These responses may be the normal products of a complex learning situation, but they also can be indicative of psychological abnormalities which will inhibit learning, or potentially be very hazardous to future piloting operations.

Flight Instructor Actions Reguarding Seriously Abnormal Students

A flight instructor who believes a student may be suffering from a serious psychological abnormality has a responsibility to refrain from certifying that student. In addition, a flight instructor has the personal responsibility of assuring that such a person does not continue flight training or become certificated as a pilot. To accomplish this, the following steps are available;

If an instructor believes that a student may have a disqualifying psychological defect, arrangements should be made for another instructor, who is not acquainted with the student, to conduct an evaluation flight. After the flight, the two instructors should confer to determine whether they agree that further investigation or action is justified.
An informal discussion should be initiated with the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), suggesting that the student may be able to meet the skill standards, but may be unsafe psychologically. This action should be taken as soon as a question arises regarding the student's fitness. It should not be delayed until the student feels competent to solo.
A discussion should be held with a local aviation medical examiner (AME), preferably the one who issued the student's medical certificate, to obtain advice and to decide on the possibility of further examination of the student.

The flight instructor's primary legal responsibility concerns the decision whether to certify the student to be competent for solo flight operations, or to make a recommendation for the practical test leading to certification as a pilot. If, after consultation with an unbiased instructor, the FSDO, and the AME, the instructor believes that the student suffers a serious psychological deficiency, such authorizations and recommendations must be withheld.

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