Assessing the Impact of Age on Cognitively Induced Visual Tunneling

Driver distraction has long been considered an area of great concern. The introduction of radio to vehicles in the 1920's resulted in large public debate that included claims that it would increase fatigue. Interestingly, since that time the radio itself is sometimes adopted as a form of fatigue management. In modern times accidents due to devices such as navigation systems and cellular telephones are more likely to make headlines. For the purpose of our research two broad classifications of distractions can be considered. Those that result in some eye movement away from the roadway and those that do not. Some distracting activities result in combinations of both. A driver is far more aware of distractions that involve gaze being directed away from the roadway. Research has show that drivers rarely move their eyes off the roadway for more than 1.6 seconds. This natural safely system results in "data chunking". This behavior limits the complexity of tasks that can be completed while underway. Far less is understood about distractions that do not result in eye glances away from the road. These distractions are most often observed during cellular phone conversations, deep thought and other similar cognitive distractions. Given that visual attention remains fixed on the road, drivers feel as though they are less impacted by cognitive distractions and may be more likely to engage in these behaviors while underway. However, data suggests that cognitive distractions maybe far more likely to result in accidents and near crashes. This may have some relationship to the fact that cognitive thought results in visual tunneling. Little is known however, the extent to which age, experience, task difficulty, etc. impact the phenomena. As the use of cellular phones and other disruptive technologies among older adults continues to increase the degree to which older operators with reduced cognitive capacity may be inclined to engage in cognitive distraction will increase. This research aims to develop a further understanding of how visual tunneling is impacted by cognitive distractions across the lifespan.