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Christopher Egan, Alexandra Willis, Joanna Wincenciak; The effects of a distractor on the visual gaze behavior of children at signalized road crossings. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):371. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/9.8.371.
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Children are over-represented in pedestrian injuries. This may be explained, at least in part, by poorer attentional mechanisms at the roadside compared with skilled adults. We have recently shown that children are more likely to attend to task-irrelevant features of the environment such as buildings and trees compared with adults (Egan et al., 2008; Perception, 37, p. 149). Here, we examined the effects of a specific distractor (ice cream) on the visual gaze behavior of 8-year-old children (N=9) during an active, real-world, road-crossing task (within-subjects, repeated measures design). Participants were taken to signalized road crossings and asked to cross when they felt it was safe, while wearing a portable eye tracker, worn in a small backpack (Mobile Eye, ASL). After the participants had crossed a series of signalized crossings they were given an ice cream of their choosing and asked to cross the roads again in the same order. Gaze fixations were analysed using frame-by-frame coding. In the final 3 seconds before crossing, children fixated only 12% of the time on traffic signs and signals in the distractor condition compared with 22% in the control condition. During the distractor condition, children focused their visual search significantly more (p[[lt]].05) in the central visual field (79%), rather than looking at traffic to the left or right, compared with the control condition (62%). The results suggest that the presence of a distractor causes children to attend significantly less to relevant parts of the road-crossing environment. These findings concur with those of previous studies and further suggest that children's poorer ability to ignore irrelevant information may contribute to the over-representation of children in pedestrian injuries.
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