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Front. Aging Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2018.00420

Effects of Visual and Acoustic Distraction on Driving Behavior and EEG in Young and Older Car Drivers: A Driving Simulation Study

  • 1Leibniz-Institut für Arbeitsforschung an der TU Dortmund (IfADo), Germany

Driving safety depends on the drivers' attentional focus on the driving task. Especially in complex situations, distraction due to secondary stimuli can impair driving performance. The inhibition of distractors or inadequate prepotent responses to irrelevant stimuli requires cognitive control, which is assumed to be reduced with increasing age. The present EEG study investigated the effects of secondary acoustic and visual stimuli on driving performance of younger and older car drivers in a driving simulator task. The participants had to respond to brake lights of a preceding car under different distraction conditions and with varying task difficulties. Overall, the anticipation of high demanding tasks affected braking response behavior in young and especially in older adults, who showed reduced cognitive control to task-relevant braking stimuli, as reflected by a smaller P3b. In a more easy (perception only) task, simultaneously presented acoustic stimuli accelerated braking response times in young and older adults, which was associated with a pronounced P2. In contrast, secondary visual stimuli increased braking response times in older adults, associated with a reduced P3b. In a more difficult (discrimination) task, braking response behavior was impaired by the presence of secondary acoustic and visual stimuli in young and older drivers. Braking response time increased (and the P3b decreased), especially when the responses to the secondary stimuli had to be suppressed. This negative effect was more pronounced with visual secondary stimuli, and especially so in the older group. In sum, the results suggest an impaired resistance to distractor interference and a reduced inhibition of prepotent responses in older drivers. This was most pronounced when the processing of task-relevant and irrelevant stimuli engage the same mental resources, for example, by sharing the same stimulus modality.

Keywords: Aging, driving, distraction, cognitive control, EEG

Received: 05 Aug 2018; Accepted: 04 Dec 2018.

Edited by:

Jutta Kray, Saarland University, Germany

Reviewed by:

Vasil Kolev, Institute of Neurobiology (BAS), Bulgaria
Markus Werkle-Bergner, Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung, Germany
Daniela Czernochowski, Technische Universität Kaiserslautern, Germany  

Copyright: © 2018 Karthaus, Wascher and Getzmann. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Melanie Karthaus, Leibniz-Institut für Arbeitsforschung an der TU Dortmund (IfADo), Dortmund, Germany,