Divided Attention
Page Produced by Tara Fosnough

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Divided Attention is the proccess of actively paying attention to two tasks at the same time. To study divided attention, researchers conduct dual-task performance tests. In these dual-performance tasks, particpants much perfom two tasks at one time. Their accuracy of performance and error-rate is then measured. Through these studies, researches have found that there are 3 main factors that contribute to dual-task performance: task similarity, practice, and task difficulty. In tasks that are of the same modality, an individual's accuracy and performance levels will decline, however, if the tasks are of two different modalities, their accuracy and performance levels will greatly improve. Studies have also shown that practice improves an individual's performance in dual-tasks. With practice, distraction levels are greatly reduced and individuals can learn to automatically perform tasks. Task difficulty also causes performance levels to decrease. If two tasks are difficult, then the attention is greatly divided between the tasks.

Cell Phones and Divided Attention

Several cell phone studies have been conducted that seek to discover how talking on a cell phone impairs a person's ability to carry out driving tasks efficiently and safely. The data shows that people have a higher chance of running red lights when talking on the phone, have slower reaction times to traffic signals or quickly stopping cars, and have impaired navigation issues. This further supports the research in regards to divided attention. Often times, when a person is using the cell phone when driving, their attention is separated between the phone conversation and the distractions on the roadway. They cannot ensure that their entire attention is focused on the road, therefore, increasing their risk of accidents and decreasing their awareness of settle distractions.

Additional Links for Further Information

Johns Hopkins research on divided attention while driving:

This study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University,studies the brain through fMRI to discover how it responds and shifts from visual information to auditory information.

A video published by Johns Hopkins on multi-tasking:

This is an in-depth discussion on the research conducted with regards to how multi-tasking or talking on the cell phone can be a risky practice for those driving on the road.

An Interactive Activity on Divided Attention:

A fun activity that lets you explore how divided attention truly works.

A research article on Divided Attention and listening to sounds:

A research article that explores how divided attention affects a person's ability to perceive differents sounds.

The effects of alcohol on divided attention:

A research article that discusses how alcohol affects a person's dual-task abilities and impairs driving.

Strayer's article on cell phones and driving:

David Strayer's research article that describes and proves how cell phones impair a person's ability to drive safely.

Does taking a 30 minute break influence divided attention abilities?:

A study that seeks to discover if a 30 minute break can influence a person's divided attention abilities.

Cell phones and Driving-Is it really that dangerous?:

A website that explores cognitive tasks and explains why cell phones are so dangerous during driving. (Scroll down to the article: Why are cell phones so dangerous for driving?)

Task Difficulty and Divided Attention:

A research article that demonstrates how two different divided task modalities, of different difficulties, affects performance when encoding information.

The relationship between Divided Attention and Working Memory:

A experimental research article that explores the relationship between people who have a high working memory level or a low memory working level to divided attention abilities.

The relationship between divided attention and traumatic brain injury:

A study that explores how individual's with traumatic brain injuries have impaired divided attention abilities in driving situations.

Are cell phones the only distraction in the car?

An article that discusses other distractions in the car during driving and gives statistics on what distractions causes accidents.

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