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Study Finds a “Sixth Sense” May be Protecting Drivers

Kaitlynn Martin7 months ago

According to Reuters Health, a coping mechanism exists that keeps part of the brain’s attention on the road as well as the steering wheel, letting drivers tolerate mental stress and distractions. Researchers say that texting breaks in this built in auto pilot.

Overview of the Driving Study

In an experiment using a driving simulator, drivers were distracted by complex or emotional questions, but compensated for erroneous steering reactions. It was found that in drivers distracted by texting, the same adaptability failed to kick in.

Lead author Ioannis Pavlidis of the Computational Physiology Laboratory states that the hypothesis was that pure emotional and cognitive distractions were about the same with pure physical, but the results proved that they are not.

The researchers studied 59 subjects, completing several test drives in the simulator. When it comes to the first few, relaxing and getting familiar was the focus. Their perspiration levels were measured, to determine their unconscious “flight or fight” response.

The drivers had to drive the course four times while under stress, such as the researcher posing questions, or emotional stress. One driver had to send text messages.

In all conditions, drivers steering was more jittery than normal. However, with texting the lane deviations were unsafe. The challenging conditions where their eyes were still forward, the trajectories ended up straighter than normal, hinting at that coping mechanism while the brain is busy.

About the “Sixth Sense”

Pavlidis states that the jittery steering may very well come from that fight or flight energy. He also believes that these distractions are potentially dangerous, if they are instantly corrected. As well as immediately dangerous if they are left occasionally uncorrected, as it was with texting.

It was found that texting undoes that “auto pilot” mechanism that drivers tend to have when they have to deal with driving and other routine tasks. Pavlidis also believes that drivers can drift into emotional or mental distraction without realizing it. It is still recommended to never drive while upset or angry. 

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