Brain on overload during multitasking while driving
American neuroscientist Marcel Adam Just (from the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University) and fellow colleagues measured the effects of multitasking while driving.
They used a driving simulator, twenty-nine adult subjects (between 18 and 25 years of age), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans (a device that takes images of brain activity by measuring blood-flow changes in the brain).
While having the subjects use the driving simulator, which displayed a simulated driving exercise, the researchers found that listening and talking to someone (that is, using the language portions of the brain), either inside the vehicle or on a cell phone, reduces the ability of the person to drive (that is, the use of the spatial regions of the brain).
According to the study, when people are listening and talking while driving, they are exceeding the physical ability of the brain to work efficiently.
In addition, the researchers found that since the ability to drive was learned much later in peoples' lives than the ability to talk, that part of the brain used for driving is much less efficient than the part of the brain used for speaking--when both are used simultaneously.
Therefore, the ability to drive is diminished much more than the ability to speak and listen when doing both at the same time.
The volunteers were also asked to perform different types of arithmetic problems.
In some cases they were asked to perform a series of multiplication problems. However, in other cases they were asked to do a multiplication problem, then a division problem, and so forth repeatedly.
The researchers found that the subjects took longer to perform a mix of multiplication and division problems than when they did the same number, for instance, of only multiplication problems.
In other tests, Dr. Just and his colleagues had the volunteers listen to complicated sentences while at the same time mentally rotate a geometric object in front of them
Different parts of the brain are used to listen to the sentences and to mentally rotate the object.
Conclusions by Just and his colleagues follow on the next page.
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William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University