Stress and flight safety: The influence of psychosocial stress on the ability to identify dangerous items during airport security checks

Project leader: Petra Wirtz, Ulrike Ehlert
Project duration: July 2005 – June 2007
Funding: University of Zurich

Security personnel conducting baggage screenings at airports may be confronted with psychosocial stress, e.g. time pressure due to passengers arriving late for their flight. Psychosocial stress activates both the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. At the psychological level, it can also lead to increased anxiety. This study examined whether the stress hormone cortisol, triggered in response to a standardised psychosocial stress test, influences the security personnel’s ability to identify dangerous items during airport security checks.

Thomas, L., Schwaninger, A., Heimgartner, N., Hedinger, P., Hofer, F., Ehlert, U. & Wirtz, P.H. (2014). Stress-induced cortisol secretion impairs detection performance in airport security x-ray baggage screening for hidden weapons by screening novices. Psychophysiology 51(9):912-20. [Link]