Emotionally involving telephone conversations lead to driver error and visual tunnelling

Briggs, Gemma; Hole, Graham and Land, Michael (2011). Emotionally involving telephone conversations lead to driver error and visual tunnelling. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 14 pp. 313–323.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2011.02.004


It is now well established that driving performance deteriorates during a mobile phone conversation, but the precise conditions under which interference occurs warrant further research. The present study examined the effects of varying the participants’ level of emotional involvement in the conversation, while keeping the conversation similar in content for all participants. Twenty-six participants, half of whom were spider-phobics, completed a simulated driving task, either while undistracted or while conversing on the subject of spiders. The individuals who were spider-phobic, and hence more emotionally involved in the conversation, demonstrated significantly higher cognitive workload (as indexed by heart rate), made more driving errors, and demonstrated a significant decline in the range of their visual fixations, showing a pattern of visual tunnelling. The type of conversation engaged in has a significant effect on driver performance: the more emotionally involving the conversation, the greater its potential for distraction.

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