Day after day, you drive the same route to work, to school, to the grocery store. You know every detail along the way.
Those trips often become so familiar, in fact, that your mind wanders elsewhere. Instead of fixating on your lane position or checking your blind spots, you’re lamenting the 9 a.m. meeting or stressing over what’s for dinner. New technology allows a wandering mind to stray even further — to smartphones, touch screens and around-view cameras. Fueled by the advancement of self-driving cars, that’s a powerful potion for distraction.
However, NC State researcher Jing Feng is working to keep your eyes — and mind — on the road. A psychologist who specializes in human attention, Feng studies issues such as mind wandering and other behavioral and cognitive changes that occur while driving. Her research answers fundamental questions about driving habits that inform effective regulations and encourage safe design.
“We all think we are good drivers, and we don’t necessarily realize when we’re not paying attention to something important,” Feng says. “So it’s critical we study these phenomena from a cognitive perspective, to understand our limitations.”
Feng’s focus on the “how” and “why” of driving behavior helps get to the root of dire issues such as texting while driving. By identifying the reasons people look at their phones — what she calls the “underlying mechanisms” — Feng and other cognitive psychologists can inform the policymakers who create texting laws, in addition to the engineers who design anti-distraction features.
Originally published Fall of 2017. Written by by Nash Dunn.