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Steven B. Most, Robert S. Astur; Attentional set as a contributing factor in virtual traffic accidents. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):788. doi: 10.1167/5.8.788.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Attention research has revealed powerful effects of preparatory attentional set. For example, when people seek targets containing certain properties, other stimuli containing those properties are particularly likely to capture attention (Folk et al., 1992). Similarly, unexpected stimuli matching a person's “set” are particularly likely to be noticed (Most et al., 2005). To date, however, the real-world generalizability of such laboratory findings has rarely been explored. We introduce a program of research using a virtual reality driving simulator to explore the potential role of attentional set in traffic accidents. In driving situations, even small delays in response time can have drastic consequences. Participants navigated at a constant speed through a virtual cityscape, where each intersection contained a sign with arrows indicating the route to be followed. One group of participants was instructed to follow blue arrows while ignoring yellow arrows, and another group was instructed to follow yellow arrows while ignoring blue arrows. At a critical intersection, an oncoming yellow motorcycle veered into the participants' lane and stopped suddenly in their path. Consistent with our hypothesis, participants attending to yellow arrows were substantially faster to brake to avoid the yellow motorcycle than were those attending to blue arrows, demonstrating a role for attentional set in the processing of unexpected obstacles while driving. We discuss these findings within the context of an ongoing program of research, as well as the importance of such paradigms for underscoring the relevance of attention research to everyday real-world concerns.
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