Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Emotional Dissonance as part of an ATCO's Production Function

Y = F(K,L)

If you never did microeconomics, you will find this post particularly interesting. Those of you who did will enjoy the unusual twist. The equation above shows how outputs are related to inputs in production. It is our classic production function that tells us that production or output (Y) is a function (F) of the inputs, capital (K) and labor (L).  How can we apply that function to the ATCO?  We can start by identifying  the products of ATC or the goods of demand and supply.  What do you think these goods are? And where can we place Emotional Dissonance (EMDI) in the production function? 

An artistic impression of  dissonance

There is no production line in ATC, yet ATCOs still produce because ATC is a service-related industry. Thus the produce or the goods are service-related. In a simplistic manner, we can say that  ATCOs talk for a living. The act of talking or communicating becomes our output (Y) in the production function. Communication is our demand and supply good.  The primary consumers are pilots who demand communication and the primary producer or the ATCO supplies the communication to effect the ATC mantra of safety, order and expedition (SOE). 

Now we identify the inputs. Again, since the industry is service-related, the inputs will also be service-related. Therefore the (K) represents social capital. The (L) is not just labor but moreso  psychocognitive labor. 

Y = F(K,L)

The prime assets of a service-related industry are the social assets: the people who provide a communicative service. The social capital encompass the social assets and the way they interact to provide economic benefit for a community or to produce, according to the forerunners of social capital theory and the neoclassical paradigm of social interaction.* As Hanifan explains, it is the way that people interact and "use the tangible substances" in the community (Hanifan, 1916).

What is meant by psychocognitive labor? It is about attention and effort (Kahneman, 1973). It is a conglomeration of mental and emotional effort to produce the attention needed in ATC. From a previous post, we saw that the ATCO relies on extensive hand-eye coordination. We know that ATCOs need to be situationally aware which requies attention. The labor is more than a mental application. It is also emotional. 

ATCOs have to  remain calm at all times. It is the only emotion permissible in the ICAO SARPS (standards and recommended practices). It is a profession where customer service can be trivialised. They do not see their "customers". In front of a radarscope at a spurt or period of heavy traffic, there is no time to think about being nice.  This regulation of emotion is called emotional labor.  

If a pilot is impolite; or an aircraft wants to deviate, make an emergency landing, overshoot the runway;  or an aircraft gets a TCAS, wants to dump fuel; or a ramp is congested; or there is flow control; or a hurricane type cloud (cumulonimbus) mass; or disabled aircraft; birds; dogs and so on - there is no time to internalize and react emotionally. Poor transmission frequency, a moody coworker and managerial deficiencies also impact upon the emotional effort and regulation required by the ATCO. Then we include the possible familial and/or personal conflicts that the ATCO faces.  
In all these scenarios and more, the regulation of the emotions produces EMDI. It is inherent in ATC. The structure of Air Traffic Control procedure is such that EMDI is unavoidably present and thus it is a by-product of the ATCO. Do you understand now where it will fit in the production function? Let us see what our production function for the controller looks like:

C,E= F(SC,P)

The ATCO's output is now a primary product - communication and a secondary by-product - emotional dissonance. Those are the outputs. The inputs are social capital and psychocognitive labor. Where do you think fatigue will fit?

To keep the post short I will end with the illustrative summary below. For Saturday's post, we will consider the evidence on EMDI from a preliminary study on 139 ATCOs worldwide and the role of our social resources in ATC. Boa semana o todo!


Natural Emotions    --------------------    Being Calm At All Times In ATC = Emotional Dissonance
                                difference between

*Sir Alexis de Tocqueville, Bordieu, Portes for social capital theory and Zanella for the neoclassical paradigm of social interaction 

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