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Measuring working memory load effects on electrophysiological markers of attention orienting during a simulated drive.

  • Ross, Veerle1
  • Vossen, Alexandra Y2
  • Smulders, Fren T Y3
  • Ruiter, Robert A C4
  • Brijs, Tom1
  • Brijs, Kris1
  • Wets, Geert1
  • Jongen, Ellen M M5
  • 1 a School for Mobility Sciences, Transportation Research Institute (IMOB) , Hasselt University , Diepenbeek , Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 2 b Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging , University of Glasgow , Glasgow , UK.
  • 3 c Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Cognitive Neuroscience , Maastricht University , The Netherlands. , (Netherlands)
  • 4 d Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Work and Social Psychology , Maastricht University , Maastricht , The Netherlands. , (Netherlands)
  • 5 e Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences , Open University , Heerlen , The Netherlands. , (Netherlands)
Published Article
Publication Date
Jul 31, 2017
DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2017.1353708
PMID: 28689462


Intersection accidents result in a significant proportion of road fatalities, and attention allocation likely plays a role. Attention allocation may depend on (limited) working memory (WM) capacity. Driving is often combined with tasks increasing WM load, consequently impairing attention orienting. This study (n = 22) investigated WM load effects on event-related potentials (ERPs) related to attention orienting. A simulated driving environment allowed continuous lane-keeping measurement. Participants were asked to orient attention covertly towards the side indicated by an arrow, and to respond only to moving cars appearing on the attended side by pressing a button. WM load was manipulated using a concurrent memory task. ERPs showed typical attentional modulation (cue: contralateral negativity, LDAP; car: N1, P1, SN and P3) under low and high load conditions. With increased WM load, lane-keeping performance improved, while dual task performance degraded (memory task: increased error rate; orienting task: increased false alarms, smaller P3). Practitioner Summary: Intersection driver-support systems aim to improve traffic safety and flow. However, in-vehicle systems induce WM load, increasing the tendency to yield. Traffic flow reduces if drivers stop at inappropriate times, reducing the effectiveness of systems. Consequently, driver-support systems could include WM load measurement during driving in the development phase.

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