And I saw the plane crashing into the river and people surviving.

Analysing Sully movie from behavioral science lens.

People who were present at the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saw the plane crashing into the river and people surviving. What exactly was happening inside the cockpit and how the captain Sully took decision within the crucial 208 seconds, I will be exploring the details and link with the angle of behavioural science in this post.

The movie ‘Sully’ started with minute details of the usual activities done by the pilot while taking off the plane. These were:

  • Sully ticked all checklist

  • During take-off, he glanced at the river

  • He was constantly communicating with the ATC

  • Told 'Unable' to ATC

  • Gave instructions to passengers to Brace for Impact

  • Landed to river

  • Called home immediately after a successful landing

  • Defended his action in front of media and lawyers

  • Asked them to make simulations more human

He called home to his wife immediately after landing which shows the high emotional intelligent quotient.

He didn't get swayed by the emotional event. This shows the beautiful balance of professionalism and emotions.

Neuroscience shows us during dangerous situations, our reactions are often controlled by our ancient reptilian brain whos default options are - freezing, fleeing, fighting.

Most of us are driven by fear and I personally sometimes become anxious during decision making in uncertain situations. One of the tricks I learned is to increase the reaction time. This simply means that take all the possible information in. Decide and stop at a point where you don't need more information. Weigh in all the alternatives, pick top three. List out all the pros and cons. Whichever alternative gets a high score on pros, go with that decision. 

Often after we take decisions we start to feel guilty. We second judge our decisions. So how can we overcome this guilt? We can rationalise ourself by saying that in whatever context we have decided we took the best possible decision.

Sully used his senses (visual, auditory, olfactory) extensively to gather all the information that he could learn from his surroundings. Sully saw the smoke coming out of both engines, smelled the birds burned flesh, and then heard a hushing noise from the engines. Therefore, in his decision-making process, he was aware of the surroundings. This process is also known as multisensory integration or multimodal integration.

Human vs Computer algorithms

Aircraft generally apply the computer algorithms inside the planes such as sensors, but these can not experience the flight case. When the investigative committee recreated and reproduced the sequence of events during the flight as the crash simulations, it looked mechanical. The pilots already knew that they had to prepare for a crash ahead. 

They overlooked the human factor, that the pilot in that situation only had 1 minute to take this decision.

"You were looking for a human error then make it human." -Sully

Behavioural Economics consider humans as an irrational being with biased thinking. But sometimes the same the human element can also act as one factor that can distinguish from computers or animals.

This power of us is the ability to make decisions based on gut feeling comes from years of practice and the unconscious mind.

When we do the job for a long time and years we build instinctual, heuristic-based quick problem-solving approaches. (Captain Sully has 30 years of experience as a pilot for commercial as well as military).

Sully allowed himself to be guided by his experience, instincts and common sense. He focused entirely on problem-solving. This whole incident is important and shows us that we humans have the capability to do unnatural things and we have innate desire and insights of solving a problem creatively no matter whatever the conditions may come.