Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Recent research on executive function and driving

Conceptual model of individual differences in Executive function. source
I recently came across a series of studies coming out of the University of Toronto Interactive Media Lab studying executive function and driving, lead by Sachi Mizobuchi.  The basic question under investigation is whether the different aspects of executive function, which are known to vary somewhat independently across people, can predict aspects of driving performance.  The three aspects of EF under consideration are shifting, updating, and inhibition.  These each seem like they would be important for driving, especially in the context of operating other devices (shifting) while following directions (updating) and trying to avoid traffic and filter out distracting information (inhibition). This research used the PEBL Bechara (Wisconsin) Card Sorting task to measure shifting.


There are a number of PEBL tasks that tap into different aspects of these function, including the stroop task, the Wisconsin/Bechara card sort, the pebl 'Switcher' task (which might invoke both updating and shifting), and many others.   Mizobuchi used the BCST in these studies as an index of shifting, which is essentially the core skill the card sorting task requires. For some of the other individual difference tasks, they used some non-PEBL executive function tasks (stroop, a color monitoring task, a Simon interference task, etc., a tracking task), although one could probably use the PEBL versions of these tasks and get similar results.

Across a number of studies, they have looked at how these individual differences can impact and predict aspects of driving, including identifying which factors are most predictive of dual-task performance. The factors they have examined include device use, driver performance, risk tolerance, multitasking, and other related concept. I think it is pretty interesting that there is fairly high correlations between a task such as the BCST and aspects of dual-task and driving, and it indicates some very low-level skills probably are core cognitive skills that form the building blocks for more complex tasks.

Some References
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