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Satellite navigations could blind drivers on road

Published On: Sat, Sep 29th, 2012 | Neurobiology | By ANI

Driving with a satellite navigation can make you blind to pedestrians, because trying to hold an image of the screen in your mind makes you ignore what is in front of your eyes, a new study has revealed.

Focusing on the detail of something we have just seen diverts our attention away from things happening around us and results in an effect known as “inattentional blindness.”

While our eyes continue to see things in their path, the visual messages seem not to reach the brain when we are concentrating on something else because its ability to process information is limited, researchers said.

The most famous example of the phenomenon is the famous “invisible gorilla” experiment, where people watching a group of players passing a basketball around do not notice a man in a gorilla suit walking across the screen.

The new study shows that even without the distraction of several moving objects in front of us, we can still become “blinded” simply by trying to remember an image.

Researchers from University College London showed a group of volunteers images containing different coloured squares and asked them to hold them in their mind, and told to expect a flash of light.

The study showed that they were less likely to detect the flash when they were concerned with trying to remember the image than when their mind was unoccupied.

Scans of the participants’ brains as they carried out the task revealed a lower level activity in the brain region which processes incoming visual information while the patients were trying to recall the image.

“An example of where this is relevant in the real world is when people are following directions on a sat nav whilst driving,” the Telegraph quoted Prof Nilli Lavie, who led the study, as saying.

“Our research would suggest that focusing on remembering the directions we’ve just seen on the screen means that we’re more likely to fail to observe other hazards around us on the road, for example an approaching motorbike or a pedestrian on a crossing, even though we may be ‘looking’ at where we’re going,” Lavie said

The study is published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Reference:
Visual Short-term Memory Load Reduces Retinotopic Cortex Response to Contrast, Nikos Konstantinou, Bahador Bahrami, Geraint Rees, and Nilli Lavie, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, November 2012, Vol. 24, No. 11 , Pages 2199-2210
doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00279

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