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MCAT

Unit 4: Lesson 1

Foundations of behavior passages

Driving and talking on a cell phone

Problem

The interference resulting from the performance of two simultaneous cognitive tasks can be categorized as either domain-general or domain-specific. Domain-general interference results from a lack of overall cognitive resources to attend to both tasks. A domain-specific interference is related to a lack of resources in a specific system, such as the visual or motor system. Recent research has suggested that language regarding visual and motoric content may engage some of the same systems through mental simulation, rather than engaging separate systems for language and perceptual systems. Studies have shown following distance increases with increased distraction or weather related stress.
Other researchers wanted to understand the implications of this research on driving ability. They set up an experiment to test the effects of content specific language involving visual, motor, or abstract content on reaction times and following distance. All participants spoke English fluently and underwent training to ensure competence in the driving simulator did not affect their performance of the task. Participants were required to keep both hands on the wheel during the experiment. After the driving simulation began, the participants had to respond to a battery of true and false questions in each language condition. A possible visual language condition sentence is ‘A stop sign is green’; a correct response is speaking the word ‘false’. Sentences in the motor condition included fine motor details and differed from required movements for driving (e.g. ‘It is possible to crush a remote between the thumb and first finger’; similarly, this would require speaking ‘false’). Abstract sentences were taken from the U.S. citizenship exam (e.g. ‘The American Civil War took place before WWII’; ‘true’). The mean following distance from the pace car for each of the three language conditions and a control group (asked to repeat the word ‘true’ or ‘false’) is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The mean following distance between the participant’s vehicle and the vehicle in front of the participant in the simulation. There were significant differences between pairwise comparisons in all conditions.
Bergen, B., Medeiros-Ward, N., Wheeler, K., Drews, F., & Strayer, D. (2013). The crosstalk hypothesis: Why language interferes with driving. Journal of experimental psychology: general, 142(1), 119.
What is the dependent measure in the study described in Figure 1?
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