Automotive

Study suggests wandering minds to be common among drivers

Study suggests wandering minds...
The researchers say that subjects were only aware of their mind wandering 65 percent of the time
The researchers say that subjects were only aware of their mind wandering 65 percent of the time
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The researchers say that subjects were only aware of their mind wandering 65 percent of the time
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The researchers say that subjects were only aware of their mind wandering 65 percent of the time

It can be easy to zone out when behind the wheel, particularly when rolling down a straight or otherwise uninteresting stretch of road. While the dangers of this behavior are obvious, a team of researchers has sought to understand just how commonplace it is, and by surveying and monitoring activity in the brains of road users, they believe they have some answers.

A team of researchers in from the US, including officials from the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, set up an experiment designed to quantify mind-wandering during driving. This meant hooking up volunteers to an electrophysiological monitoring system to detect changes in electrical activity in the brain. But because they couldn't slap these on actual drivers, they made do with a simulation instead.

That simulation was made to mimic the monotony of a day-to-day commute. For five consecutive days, subjects were hooked up to the monitors and then jumped into the driving simulator, completing two 20-minute drives along a straight and intentionally dull stretch of highway at a constant speed. Between those two trips, they were made to complete a written exam to replicate the mental exertion of a day's work.

At random times throughout, the subjects would hear a buzzer and be prompted by a tablet computer asking whether their mind had been wandering. If answering yes, they were asked whether or not they were aware that their mind had been wandering.

"We found that during simulated driving, people's minds wander a lot – some upwards of 70 percent of the time," says Carryl Baldwin, of George Mason University, who was involved in the study.

The team says that subjects were more likely to indulge in mind-wandering during the second trip, and that they were only aware of their mind-wandering 65 percent of the time. And by observing the electrical activity in the brain, they saw distinct changes in electrophysiological brain patterns when mind-wandering did occur.

"Mind wandering may be an essential part of human existence and unavoidable," says Baldwin. "It may be a way to restore the mind after a long day at the office. What we are not sure about yet, is how dangerous it is during driving. We need additional research to figure this out. In terms of improving safety in the future, one option could be autonomous transport systems, like self-driving cars, that allow people's minds to wander when it is safe to do so, but re-engage when they need to pay attention."

The team's research was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Source: Frontiers via EurekAlert

9 comments
guzmanchinky
Our minds are NOT made to drive cars. Bring on the self driving cars and prevent the awful carnage of 1000 gruesome, preventable deaths every single day...
MD
Monkey brains obviously can't be trusted with tasks such as long distance driving.. Time to get AI+Autonomy in every vehicle.
vince
If you want to test wandering minds do so with a realistic test with testers kept awake for 20+ hours and after having driven for more than 10 hours. That simulates a typical rush hour driver who isn't fully awake and whose mind is wandering on a lot of things at work, at home, etc.
seamuscollins
I drive a Mini Cooper. When I am forced to to drive slow on open roads due to local law enforcement revenue strategies, I get bored and my mind does wander. When going at higher speeds I find that I am engaged in driving. My feet are constantly touching the gas pedal and brake, my right hand never leaves the gear shift, my eyes are constantly darting between the windshield and my various mirrors. I am watching the road conditions, my body feels the vibrations, my suspension is somewhat stiff and it communicates a visceral effect that keeps m alert. I am constantly trying to maneuver my car into a space removed from the constant old pack and tailgating tendencies of most drivers. I have trained as a pilot of both power airplanes and gliders and have found this training to be very useful on the road. It is difficult to get bored flying an airplane, except when there is no turbulence and the atmosphere is static. I think the Germans have figured this out with the Autobahn. We live in a cultured of distraction by design.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
No one ever talks about hyperventilation.
D.
Just 9 participants?! 5 days?! One season?! This has to be one of the most "directed" researches ever undertaken. I wonder what was the real purpose; Kick us out from the driving seat in favour of AI? Allow for more gadgets on the dash? Coming from a third world country with my perception of the NHSTA I'm thoroughly disappointed.
Martin Hone
"not sure how dangerous mind wandering is whilst driving". They are kidding, right ?
MarkGatti
absolutely , an honest cop once admitted it was hard to catch speedsters because they are so awake ! , I find our modern ' safe ' speed limits are so boring I'm always thinking about other things , probably take 'science ' another decade to figure this out , the best computer ever designed switched on behind the wheel is hard to beat , by all means give us hud's and interconnected vehicle tech for increased safety but don't let those who want to have the ability to 'control' every area of human life the power to crash you free travel
Paul Muad'Dib
I spent over five years driving an auto racing simulator called iRacing, and I can tell you with complete certainty that having your mind wandering while racing just about guarantees a crash. It requires so much unwavering concentration over a span of thirty minutes to an hour that it's probably one of the most mentally challenging things I've ever done. Of course driving a normal real car on public roadways is far less challenging so a wandering mind is not nearly as big a problem.