CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 1
Running Head: CREW RESOURCE MANAGEMENT TRAINING AND THE
Crew Resource Management Training and the Boomerang Effect
Mersie A. Melke
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Daytona Beach, Florida
Department of Distance Learning
Instructor: Timothy Collins
October 13, 2009
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 2
The necessity of Crew Resource Management has become evident in contemporary aviation
and aerospace industry. Incident and accident reports that investigated aviation mishaps have
borne witness to this fact and as a result, regulators and operators are aiming to a CRM
directed work environment. However, a portion of the flight crew population has a negative
response to the CRM training. This paper addresses psychological make up of humans in
response to new ideas and training in order to put the subject in perspective. In addition, it
will address the impact of the way CRM training proceeds that will trigger such kind of
response amongst crews. Together with this, discussion of findings from studies that analyze
boomerang effect is a part of this paper.
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 3
According to a detailed review of 10 years of air transport accidents prior to 1979,
accidents resulting from lack of knowledge or technical skill were extremely rare (Chidester,
Helmreich, Gregorich, Geis, 1991). Instead, breakdowns in communication and workload
distribution were the causal factors. To this end, Crew Resource Management training (CRM)
functions to instill qualities other than technical ones in to the flight crews’ capacity. CRM,
formerly referred to as Cockpit Resource management, is a procedure by which
crewmembers of a particular aircraft carry out a safe and efficient flight to a desired
destination. While accomplishing this task, crews have to be aware of all the available
resources that they may use. These resources include but are not limited to the equipment
onboard the aircraft, fellow crewmembers, air traffic controllers and their inputs, maintenance
personnel and their inputs etc. In addition, not only do they have to be aware of the above,
they also should have the skill of properly utilizing the resources for the optimal output of the
flight leg, which is a safe and efficient flight.
CRM training is the means by which the crew achieves the above required skill and
knowledge. CRM training covers areas of effective communication and aeronautical
decision-making as a tool to carry out a safe and efficient flight. It also includes areas of team
building and associated team maintenance during the phase of flight and beyond, like the
debriefing and briefing phase of the flight. One of the essences of an optimal flight
performance by a crew is the capability of building and maintaining a team that works for the
desired out puts of a flight phase mentioned earlier. In addition, CRM training addresses the
workload management techniques and situational awareness skills expected from CRM
Despite the fact that CRM training has the above desirable advantages, it also
produces undesirable outcomes. These undesirable outcomes if not countered will effectively
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 4
destroy the work done in enhancing the crew, since teamwork is the core of aviation crews.
This is to mean that, even though statistically a majority of the crew population shows a
positive change, due to a small population that reacts negatively to CRM training the whole
team will be inefficient and unsafe. This negative reaction, which is also termed as
boomerang effect, is the agenda of the following pages. Analysis on individuals with such
kind of a character from the viewpoint of human psychology is one of the discussions for this
paper. In addition, CRM training methods that could initiate boomerang effect is another
CRM training methods that invoke Boomerang effect
In a commercial aviation context, CRM training works on changing the already
existing working culture of an organization from a flight operations point of view. In doing
so, it requires a closer than before working environment between departments that play a role
in the dispatch and flight of an aircraft. This means that work behaviors paraphrased as
follows are invalid, “I have done my part…. It is their baby now”. Crewmembers, must
understand that the success of one is the success of the team and the failure of one is the
failure of the team.
In order to have this kind of synergy amongst crewmembers, initially there should be
commitment from upper management to create a working environment that will facilitate
such a behavior. A conscious effort by management and respected role models is required to
produce desired changes in attitudes and behavior (Helmreich, Wilhelm, 1991). Developing
such kind of an environment calls for understanding from management’s side, about the
advantages of CRM training. Consequently, a commitment to create such an environment is
necessary for an effective CRM training.
However, in the absence of an organizational culture that fosters CRM practices,
CRM training alone will be of no consequence. In the worst case, emergence of individuals
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 5
that exhibit boomerang effect is inevitable. This is due to the mismatch of real life
environment and classroom reality. Individuals that show boomerang effects, will loose trust
in the training not because of its genuine nature, but because of its lack of non-applicability in
real life. They may even go to the point of inferring these unfortunate circumstances in to
other CRM trainings not attached to their organization. Effectively, lack of understanding and
commitment in creating a conducive environment for CRM, creates individuals with negative
reaction towards the concept of CRM training.
Helmreich and Wilhelm (1991), in their paper entitled Outcomes of Crew Resource
Management Training on page 291, realized the purpose of management and leading pilots’
readiness before CRM training introduction as follows. Appendix A shows a pictorial
representation of the results.
In our study, data relevant to this hypothesis were available. In both organizations, an
anonymous survey of pilots' attitudes was conducted more than 1 year prior to the
introduction of formal CRM training. Return rates of 45% and 50% were achieved on
the baseline measure. During the intervening period between the baseline
measurement and the initiation of training, several actions were taken to improve the
organizational climate in both organizations. A series of briefings by respected
members of management was held for line pilots. The need for CRM training was
stressed, course content was described, and crewmembers' fears that the training
involved some kind of brainwashing were allayed. Also during this period, check
airmen and instructors were given the training along with additional instruction in the
evaluation of crew performance. An empirical indication of shifts in the
organizational culture was found by comparing baseline attitudes with those measured
just prior to CRM training.
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 6
The pivotal action, without which an occurrence of boomerang individuals would prevail,
was the understanding and commitment of management and check airmen for CRM training
Another cause for the manifestation of the boomerang effect after CRM training is the
specific course content and the capabilities of the instructors themselves (Helmreich,
Wilhelm, 1991). As mentioned earlier, any CRM training must cover issues coherent with
communication, workload management and the like. However, in doing so different
instructors employ various type of training technique. In the process of the training, emphasis
to some parts of the training and weaker coverage of others occurs. This mainly is because of
the bias of inexperienced training instructors. Thus, despite measurable differences in the
effectiveness of instructors, differential acceptance of CRM concepts continues to be present
(Helmreich, Wilhelm, 1991).
Coherent with this cause, the dynamics of the group exposed to CRM training also
steers an individual to exhibit boomerang effect. Group dynamics or process are manifested
primarily through verbal communication (Wiener, Kanki, Helmreich, 1993).In addition, since
CRM training is based on a simulation of what is going on in the field, trainees must have the
ideal representation of the group processes while in class. This representation includes but is
not limited to the following inputs: briefings, inquiry or assertion, leadership, group climate,
vigilance and navigation (Wiener, Kanki, Helmreich, 1993). Lack of any of the above
defining factors of group dynamics or process, or decrease in quality of these factors will
trigger a boomerang effect on individual members of the group.
In addition, defining bad and good seminars as those that received the most positive
and negative overall evaluations respectively, Helmreich and Wilhelm (1989) deduced that
boomerang effects clustered amongst the bad seminars with more than 30 percent of the
population under study showing negative effects on an evaluation scale termed as
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 7
communication and coordination. Positive effects clustered amongst the good seminars with
nearly 40% of the population showing positive changes (Helmreich, Wilhelm, 1989).
However, bad seminars appear to turn for the better by a charismatic participant(s) who can
assume leadership of the group and impose his or her views on others. (Helmreich, Wilhelm,
1991). Consequently, it is evident that a group comprised of individuals with pessimistic
views toward CRM training or a group that lacks the charismatic participants mentioned
above will develop individuals with boomerang effect towards CRM.
Aviator Psychology Associated with Boomerang Effect
The last section, focused on the external factors of an individual pilot that may invoke
the undesirable negative effect after CRM training. An equally evident factor that is
associated with boomerang effect on CRM is flight crew psychology. The portion of pilot
psychology linked with such an effect is the attitude and personality of the individual that
goes through CRM training (Chiedester, Helmreich, Gregorich, Geiss, 1991). Some
determinants of pilot performance are ability, personality and attitudes. Obviously, training
cannot provide an individual with ability that one does not possess (Helmreich, 1987).
However, before going into the details of how these factors affect the outcome of CRM
training, it is necessary to address the definition and scope of them as a human psychological
Attitudes are learned patterns of responding that are more or less modifiable through
training (Chiedester, Helmreich, Gregorich, Geiss, 1991). Personality traits, on the other
hand, are stable, deep-seated predispositions to respond in particular ways (Chiedester,
Helmreich, Gregorich, Geiss, 1991). “It has been argued elsewhere that training of the type
employed for cockpit management can influence attitudes but is unlikely to effect any
changes in underlying personality factors” (Helmreich, Foushee, Benson, Russini, 1986).
Therefore, comprehending the fact that CRM training will have an effect on only the attitudes
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 8
of individual pilots will help in identifying what the causes of boomerang effect are from the
other pertinent psychological factor, which is personality.
In an attempt to quantify the personality traits of aviators, Gregorich, Helmreich,
Wilhelm and Chidester (1989) conducted a study that developed a sample population
representative of the actual flight crew population, results of which help to keep in
perspective the personality trends associated with aviators. Gregorich et al. (1989), in their
paper entitled Personality based clusters as predictors of aviator attitudes and performance on
page 687, identified the measuring units of aviator personality as follows,
The Personal Characteristics Inventory (PCI) captures two broad underlying trait
dimensions: instrumentality or goal orientation and expressivity or interpersonal
orientation. Instrumentality has as its core, achievement motivation. The PCI breaks
these concepts down into several interrelated dimensions: Mastery, an interest in
undertaking challenging tasks and in improving skills; Work, the desire and
satisfaction gained from working hard; competitiveness, the desire to best others in
one’s activities; and more globally, instrumentality taps the broader construct of
achievement motivation. The PCI also contains the negative instrumentality sub scale,
which reflects an autocratic, dictatorial orientation. Expressivity reflects an
interpersonal orientation and the notions of warmth and sensitivity to others. Verbal
aggression, a form of negative expressivity refers to a type of nagging hostility
directed towards others.
Consequently, the study deduced personality clusters that are representative of the
population under study. The first cluster depicted above average levels of instrumentality,
expressivity, mastery and work and below average levels of negative instrumentality and
verbal aggression. This cluster, labeled as the right stuff, has its elevation of positive
instrumental and expressive attributes in addition to its relatively low scores on the negative
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 9
dimensions. This combination of characteristics is optimal for the close coordination required
of crewmembers in multi crew aircraft. The second cluster has above average levels of
instrumentality, negative instrumentality and verbal aggression as well as work, mastery and
competitiveness. This cluster, labeled as the wrong stuff, has high instrumentality, especially
of the negative form, and low positive value in expressivity. Individuals whose traits
resemble this pattern have rugged personality rather than being team players. Largely low
scores on instrumentality, expressiveness, mastery, work and competitiveness marked the
third cluster. This cluster, labeled as the no stuff, has a depressed score on measured
attributes (Gregorich, Helmreich, Wilhelm, Chidester, 1989).
After defining the above personality types, it will be necessary to see the reaction
these persons would have to CRM training. In a study conducted by Helmreich and Wilhelm
(1991) based on the personality clusters identified above and the coordination and
communication scale out of the cockpit management attitudes questionnaire (CMAQ), the
researchers observed that personality influences both initial position and training outcomes.
The CMAQ contains 25 statements describing attitudes found to be indicators of crew
coordination in National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA) research. In particular, out of
the personality clusters defined, those with no stuff show a net boomerang effect with mean
final attitudes less positive than initial position (Helmreich, Wilhelm, 1991). Appendix B
shows a pictorial representation of this finding.
Understanding the reason why the individuals in the no stuff cluster react the way
they do will help address the root cause of such kind of a personality. From the scores these
persons get on the evaluation of their psychology, one can infer that, these are the people that
need the teachings of CRM training (Helmreich, Wilhelm, 1991). However, the fact that they
are the ones that reject it should create extra caution amongst recruiters on the type of crew
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 10
they select. Technical efficiency should not be the only criteria if a crew with safe and
efficient performance is required.
Theoretically individuals in the no stuff personality cluster, or the other clusters for
that matter, will experience psychological reactance to an event that will eliminate or
threatens to eliminate their freedom in engaging in a given behavior pattern (Brehm, 1966).
This freedom of behavior should be physically and psychologically conceivable by the
individual. “Whether or not a person ‘really’ has freedom he can and most certainly will
believe that he has” (Brehm, 1966). Psychological reactance is a motivational state directed
toward the reestablishment of the threatened or eliminated freedom (Brehm, 1966).
Consequently, the magnitude of the reactance is in direct relation between the importance of
the freedom eliminated or threatened. In addition, it also relates with the proportion of free
behaviors eliminated or threatened (Brehm, 1966).
Correlating the theoretical analysis of psychological reactance with the personality of
no stuff personality clusters, one can see that CRM training and application calls for an
instrumental, expressive and competitive crew, which are not the qualities of this cluster. In
fact, CRM training works to instill communication skills, workload management skills etc
that threatens the behavior pattern of this cluster, which is doing things by oneself.
Consequently, if the members of this cluster become part of CRM training, they will feel
threatened, and thus will maneuver towards the negative end of CRM acceptance. Therefore,
one can deduce that, people with a no stuff personality will boomerang after CRM training
because CRM concept itself threatens their defining trait.
A practical study that shows the theory of psychological reactance in action is the one
by Abelson and Miller (1967). In this study, the authors set up an opinion discussion in a
public place. In one of the variants of the experiment carried out, the researchers tried to
persuade the subject of study by just giving the information. In another variant of the
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 11
experiment, the researchers “insulted” the subject during the discussion that entailed the
persuasion process regarding the public opinion. At all the experiments, the subject was
unaware of the fact that he or she was part of the experiment, in order to maintain the
unbiased status of the subject. Consequently, Abelson and Miller (1967) reported boomerang
effect amongst subjects that were “insulted” in the course of the experiment. The “insult”
relates to the removal or threat of removal of the subject’s freedom to choose a certain
behavior in the public opinion discussion issue, according to theory of psychological
reactance. Thus in accordance with the theory, the subjects that were “insulted” did exhibit
Until now, the issue was the reasons of boomerang effect from an initial training
perspective. However, a comprehensive understanding of this effect needs input from
measurements done on outcomes from recurrent trainings as well. To this end, the study
conducted by Irwin (1991) captures the effect of recurrent training on negative persuasion
attitude. The study bases on data obtained from 5,830 flight crews at initial CRM training and
6,354 flight crews at recurrent CRM training. In addition, for 2,982 flight crews, it was
possible to match the data from the initial CRM training to the data obtained at the time of
recurrent training (Irwin, 1991).
Furthermore, the analysis done bases on the CMAQ mentioned earlier and its three
embedded personality measuring scales namely communication and coordination, command
responsibility and recognition of stressor factors. By cross tabulating global attitude change
scores, which are the mean value of all the three scales, Irwin(1991) found out that less than
1% of the sample show boomerang attitude change for both phases of training. This indicates
that there is a tendency for individuals who show extreme negative attitude change on a
subscale because of training to show extreme negative attitude change on a subscale because
of recurrent training (Irwin, 1991). However, one should keep in mind that initial training
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 12
provides a change in attitudes, but a reinforcement of CRM concepts is necessary for attitude
maintenance and the stability of attitudes across training.
Reasons for the cause of boomerang effect in flight crews undergoing CRM training
is the subject of this paper. Observations made in to the researches that addressed this subject
have shown that, the reasons fall in to two categories. These categories are the ones that are
external to the flight crew undergoing training and the ones that are internal and coherent
with the psychological makeup of the individual. Both groups of reasons require attention in
order to correct them. Otherwise, keeping in mind that CRM is a team effort, the intent of the
CRM training will not only be disqualified on those individuals with negative persuasion, but
also on the whole flight crew in which such individuals function.
Another input that can be deduced is the fact that handling the causes of the
boomerang effect in the first category is feasible than the ones in the second category from a
commercial aviation perspective. This is because the airline business is constantly in
competition and solving problems of individuals is unlikely as compared to solving the
problem of organizational culture. In addition, airlines may opt to have a selection process in
place that will filter out individuals that are not CRM-friendly instead of investing on such
individuals to change their attitude towards CRM.
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 13
Abelson, R. P., & Miller, J. C. (1967). Negative persuasion by personal insult. Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology, 3,321-333.
Brehm, J.W. (1966). A Theory of Psychological Reactance. In Burke, W.W., Lake, D.G.,
Paine, J.W. (Eds), Organization Change: A Comprehensive Reader. John Wiley and
Chidester, T.R., Helmreich, R.L., Gregorich, S.E. & Geis, C.E. (1991). Pilot Personality and
Crew Coordination: Implications for Training and Selection. The International
Journal of Aviation Psychology, 1:1, 25 — 44.
Gregorich. S., Helmreich, R. L., Wilhelm, J. A., & Chidester, T. R. (1989). Personality based
clusters as predictors of aviator attitudes and performance. In Jensen, R.S. (Ed.),
Proceedings of the fifth symposium on aviation psychology (pp. 697-702). Columbus:
Ohio State University.
Helmreich, R. L. (1987). Theory underlying CRM training: Psychological issues in flight
crew performance and crew coordination. In Orlady, H.W. & Foushee, H.C. (Eds.),
Cockpit resource management training: Proceedings of the NASA/MAC workshop
(NASA Conference Publication No. 2455). Moffett Field, CA: NASA-Ames
Helmreich, R. L., Foushee, H. C., Benson, R., & Russini, R. (1986). Cockpit management
attitudes: Exploring the attitude-performance linkage. Aviation, Space and
Environmental Medicine, 57, 1198-1200.
Helmreich, R. L., & Wilhelm, J. A. (1989). When training boomerangs: Negative outcomes
associated with cockpit resource management programs. In R. S. Jensen (Ed.),
Proceedings of the fifth symposium on aviation psychology (pp. 692-697). Columbus:
Ohio State University.
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 14
Helmreich, R.L. and Wilhelm, J. A. (1991). Outcomes of Crew Resource Management
Training. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 1:4,287 — 300.
Irwin, C.M. (1991). The Impact of Initial and Recurrent Cockpit Resource Management
Training on Attitudes. In Jensen, R.S. (Ed.), Proceedings of the sixth symposium on
aviation psychology (pp. 344-349). Columbus: Ohio State University.
Wiener, E.L., Kanki, B.G., Helmreich, R.L. (1993). Cockpit Resource Mangement. Elsevier.
San Diego, Ca.
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 15
(A) Baseline and pre-CRM training scores-Communications and Coordination scale. (B)
Baseline and pre-CRM training scores-Command Responsibility and Recognition of Stressor
CRM Training and Boomerang Effect 16
CMAQ Communication and scale mean: For the United States Air Force (USAF) sample,