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D. Alfred Owens, Jennifer Stevenson, Andrew Osborn, James Geer; Tracking the visual attention of novice and experienced drivers. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):384. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/9.8.384.
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We investigated deployment of visual attention of 12 novice and 19 experienced drivers while they examined projected photographs of road scenes, which ranged from congested urban streets to open rural roads. Scenes were selected to represent a range of risk-levels based on prior ratings (1–7) by experienced drivers. Participants viewed 52 pairs of photographs. In each pair of photos, one scene scored a higher risk-level than the other scene (e.g., a merging vehicle, pedestrian, construction activities, etc.). Importantly, the difference in risk-level of some stimulus pairs was great and, therefore, “easy” to assess quickly, whereas the difference of risk-level of other pairs was relatively small and, therefore, “difficult” to assess quickly. The task was to decide as quickly and accurately as possible which of the two road scenes posed greater risk and to press a button indicating whether the riskier scene appeared on the right or left. Eye movements were recorded simultaneously to determine which elements of each scene attracted the participant's fixation. Analyses of eye movement records indicated that, compared with novice drivers, the fixations of experienced drivers tended to cluster more heavily on elements of potential risk. Moreover, reaction time (RT) data showed that experienced drivers took significantly longer to respond when the risk-levels of the two scenes were similar (“Difficult”) than when the risk-levels were different (“Easy”). In contrast, novices responded quickly to all comparisons, with no difference between “Difficult” and “Easy” combinations. These findings indicate that, compared to novices, experienced drivers recognize and attend more thoroughly to risky elements in realistic road scenes. This difference in deployment of attention may help to account for the fact that, for at least a year after licensure, new drivers, independent of their age, are at greater risk of causing a collision.
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