Couples, contentious conversations, mobile telephone use and driving

Lansdown, T.C., and Stephens, A.N.

This European study involved the use of a driving simulator to investigate the effects of contentious conversion between couples on driving performance, and determine whether there was a difference between the conversation taking place on the phone or in person in the vehicle. There were 40 participants in the study with an average age of 25 years. While participants were driving on the simulator, they also were tasked with engaging in an emotionally difficult conversation with their partner. These conversations took place either via a hands-free phone, or with their partner present in the simulator.

Results indicated that driving performance was weakest during conversations that occurred when the driver’s partner was physically present in the simulator. The study revealed different tasks were subjectively viewed as emotionally more difficult than a control (i.e., more neutral conversations). In particular, driver performance was found to be adversely affected in terms of both longitudinal and lateral vehicle control. In general, performance deteriorated during contentious conversations with the partner present, suggesting the drivers may be better able to regulate driving task demands during difficult discussions when the partner not in the vehicle. Contentious tasks are that were significantly more emotionally taxing provoked higher levels of workload and also degraded driving performance.

This suggests that drivers may not be able to fully regulate driving task demands during difficult discussions with their partner as a passenger in the vehicle. Contentious conversations seem to be emotionally taxing, which provokes a higher level of workload therefore effecting driving performance. Researchers suggest that future research examine the effects of contentious conversations between non-romantic partners, such as parents and children, in order to gauge whether they have a similar effect on driving performance.

Lansdown, T. C., & Stephens, A. N. (2013). Couples, contentious conversations, mobile telephone use and driving. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 50, 416-422.