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Skill To Talk on Phone and Drive Safe Extremely Rare

Skill To Talk on Phone and Drive Safe Extremely Rare A new study finds that the vast majority of the population — 97.5 percent to be exact — does not have the ability to safely multitask while driving.

University of Utah psychologists describe the group that can talk on a cell phone and drive safely as “supertaskers” who constitute only 2.5 percent of the population.

The study, conducted by psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer, is now in press for publication later this year in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

This finding is important not because it shows people can drive well while on the phone, but because it challenges current theories of multitasking. Previous research has demonstrated how communication is hindered by driving.

Further research may lead eventually to new understanding of regions of the brain that are responsible for supertaskers’ extraordinary performance.

“According to cognitive theory, these individuals ought not to exist,” says Watson.

“Yet, clearly they do, so we use the supertasker term as a convenient way to describe their exceptional multitasking ability. Given the number of individuals who routinely talk on the phone while driving, one would have hoped that there would be a greater percentage of supertaskers.

“And while we’d probably all like to think we are the exception to the rule, the odds are overwhelmingly against it. In fact, the odds of being a supertasker are about as good as your chances of flipping a coin and getting five heads in a row.”

The researchers assessed the performance of 200 participants over a single task (simulated freeway driving), and again with a second demanding activity added (a cell phone conversation that involved memorizing words and solving math problems).

Performance was then measured in four areas—braking reaction time, following distance, memory, and math execution.

As expected, results showed that for the group, performance suffered across the board while driving and talking on a hands-free cell phone.

For those who were not supertaskers and who talked on a cell phone while driving the simulators, it took 20 percent longer to hit the brakes when needed and following distances increased 30 percent as the drivers failed to keep pace with simulated traffic while driving. Memory performance declined 11 percent, and the ability to do math problems fell 3 percent.

However, when supertaskers talked while driving, they displayed no change in their normal braking times, following distances or math ability, and their memory abilities actually improved 3 percent.

The results are in line with Strayer’s prior studies showing that driving performance routinely declines under “dual-task conditions” — namely talking on a cell phone while driving — and is comparable to the impairment seen in drunken drivers. Other research done on cell phones while driving has shown that cell phone use slows down traffic in general.

Yet contrary to current understanding in this area, the small number of supertaskers showed no impairment on the measurements of either driving or cell conversation when in combination. Further, researchers found that these individuals’ performance even on the single tasks was markedly better than the control group.

“There is clearly something special about the supertaskers,” says Strayer.

“Why can they do something that most of us cannot? Psychologists may need to rethink what they know about multitasking in light of this new evidence.

“We may learn from these very rare individuals that the multitasking regions of the brain are different and that there may be a genetic basis for this difference. That is very exciting. Stay tuned.”

Watson and Strayer are now studying expert fighter pilots under the assumption that those who can pilot a jet aircraft are also likely to have extraordinary multitasking ability.

The current value society puts on multitasking is relatively new, note the authors. As technology expands throughout our environment and daily lives, it may be that everyone – perhaps even supertaskers – eventually will reach the limits of their ability to divide attention across several tasks.

“As technology spreads, it will be very useful to better understand the brain’s processing capabilities, and perhaps to isolate potential markers that predict extraordinary ability, especially for high-performance professions,” Watson concludes.

Source: University of Utah

Skill To Talk on Phone and Drive Safe Extremely Rare

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Skill To Talk on Phone and Drive Safe Extremely Rare. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/30/skill-to-talk-on-phone-and-drive-safe-extremely-rare/12460.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.