Steven W. Savage, Douglas D. Potter, Benjamin W. Tatler



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Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour

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The aim of this current study was to test the hypothesis that contemplating a recent mobile telephone conversation has a detrimental effect on measures of attentional processing in a driving situation. In this within-subjects design, hazard perception performance was compared between high and no cognitive load conditions (with or without a puzzle to solve). We tested 17 participants, all of whom were required to be in possession of a DVLA approved driving license and had completed the hazard perception portion of the British driving test. A novel dual-task paradigm, which did not require subjects to process or produce verbal information during the primary task, was employed to increase participants’ cognitive load. Participants were assessed on three categories of performance measures: behavioural, eye movements and cortical activity between both high and no cognitive load conditions whilst watching 20 clips from a hazard perception test. This study was run in a laboratory of the Psychology Research Wing at the University of Dundee. Behavioural findings from the hazard perception test indicate significantly increased reaction times to hazardous stimuli and significantly increased false alarm rates to non-hazardous stimuli in the high cognitive load condition (when contemplating a previous conversation). Analyses of eye movements indicated significant increases in blink frequencies, higher saccade peak velocities and a significant reduction in the spread of fixations along the horizontal axis. Results from EEG recordings showed a significant increase in frontal and a significant decrease in occipital theta activity within the high load condition. Findings were interpreted within the framework of Corbetta, Patel and Schulmann’s (2008) networks model of attention control. Our findings suggest that preoccupation with a recent conversation negatively influences the modulatory effect of the central executive on both the stimulus as well as goal-driven networks of the brain.