Why sat-navs could drive you to distraction

Published: 19 April 2016 at 12:57

A mobile phone being used as Satellite Navigation

Anglia Ruskin psychologists show that visual scanning carries over between tasks

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Psychologists have shown why checking devices such as sat-navs could have a negative effect on your driving.

The new research, to be published in the June edition of the journal Acta Psychologica, was carried out by psychologists from Anglia Ruskin University, Bournemouth University, the University of Salford and the University of Birmingham.

They conducted three separate experiments to measure how visual scanning behaviour in one task can carry over to a second unrelated task.  During these experiments, participants performed a search task with strings of letters that were arranged horizontally, vertically, or randomly across the screen.

Immediately following this, they were presented with a road scene and were asked to memorise it (experiment 1), rate it for hazardousness (experiment 2), or respond to a hazard (experiment 3).

Even though the time spent completing the letter search was minimal, the “carry over” of eye-movements from the letter search to the road scene was observed in all experiments, and this influenced an individual’s attentional allocation.

The psychologists observed an increase in the amount of vertical scanning following the vertically orientated letter-search task and decreased vertical scanning following the horizontal letter search.

In the third experiment, responses to road hazards were made significantly quicker following letters presented horizontally compared to letters presented randomly or vertically.

Dr Michael Pake, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Our research shows that an individual’s immediate attention can be affected by previous tasks. The fact that attention may continue to be allocated based on the demands of a preceding task could have important safety implications.

“In driving settings, this could impact on the safety of road users as reading information on a sat-nav, or even road signs, could cause a change in scanning behaviour and increase the risk of a hazard being missed.

“Further research should be carried out to explore the full extent of this effect and examine to what degree this ‘carry over’ influences road safety.”