The different stress levels generated within individual persons by a particular stressor will differ from one individual to another.
Thus some people are more tolerant of stress than others. The response of a person to the event or circumstances to which he is exposed is known as arousal.
One way of defining arousal is to say that it is the measure of the human being’s readiness, fitness and ability to respond effectively to a given stress factor. The level of arousal of different human beings will depend on their inborn and acquired characteristics as well as their state of health.
Inborn characteristics may include an individual’s “personality” or “character”. Among acquired characteristics, we may identify an individual’s level of training and experience in a given field of activity.
In an active, outward-going, highly trained person, too little stimulation or arousal will lead to the onset of boredom and even drowsiness. Such a person might need significant challenges in his specialist field in order to function optimally. (Image below).
Conversely, an introspective, underconfident person, if highly aroused, might be unable to function at all, even in circumstances that he is competent to deal with. If such a person is under-trained, his level of arousal and the stress that he feels might cause him serious problems.
Flying in challenging meteorological conditions (See image above) maybe even a welcome occurrence for a skilled and experienced pilot and stimulate him to demonstrate extraordinary skill, whereas such conditions may cause unbearable stress in an under-confident, low-hours pilot, and lead to a degradation in basic flying skills.
In Figure below, the relationship between levels of arousal and performance is shown.
Evidently, pilot B is in a state of optimal arousal where a human being operates at his most efficient.
Pilot C may be considered as being in a state of high arousal.
Here, a person’s performance starts to deteriorate. He will begin to commit errors and overlook items of information. His attention span will narrow and he will tend to focus on a limited source of data. If very high arousal levels are reached, the pilot may experience overload and reach the limit of his information processing capacity and ability to cope with the task in hand.
It is easy to see how such a high state of arousal might result in a pilot-induced accident.
At the other extreme of the graph, that is at low arousals, such as when we are relaxing on a sun-soaked airfield following a satisfying flight, (Pilot A), our information processing capacity is again low, and our performance potential is poor.
There is no doubt that training and experience help to ward off stress and high levels of arousal. And successful completion of a demanding task will reduce the amount of stress experienced when a similar task is undertaken in the future.