Imagery-inducing distraction leads to cognitive tunneling and deteriorated driving performance

Briggs, G.F., Hole, G.J., Land, M.F.

The objective of this EU study was to examine the effects of imagery-induced distraction on hazard perception and eye movements. This was achieved by isolating ways that conversation-induced mental imagery might impair driving performance in drivers performing dual tasks. There were 60 participants in this study that ranged in age from 18 to 63 years. Participants were required to drive using the simulator while answering true or false to statements that were categorized as imagery (i.e., “In a rowing boat, the rower sits with his back to the front of the boat”) and non-imagery (i.e., “The official language of Mexico is Spanish”). Results indicated undistracted drivers detected the most hazards, non-imagery distracted drivers detected fewer hazards, and imagery distracted drivers detected the fewest hazards. In addition, results showed that undistracted participants detected more hazards (M = 2.72, SE = .38), and made fewer false alarms than their distracted counterparts. These findings suggest that distraction significantly impaired hazard perception performance.

As such, findings showed that performing a secondary task while driving can reduce driving performance. Based on these results, researchers suggested that future research examines whether the effects of visual imagery on driving performance are influenced by driver age, or if the effects vary across drivers of different ages. In addition, vehicle manufacturers were encouraged to consider the potential for driver interfaces which evoke visual imagery to potentially impair driving performance.

Briggs, G. F., Hole, G. J., & Land, M. F. (2016). Imagery-inducing distraction leads to cognitive tunnelling and deteriorated driving performance. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 38, 106-117.