Tactile detection response task: Metrics for assessing drivers’ cognitive workload

Huizhong Guo, Linda Ng Boyle, James W. Jenness, John D. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Tactile Detection Response Task (TDRT) has been used to assess the cognitive workload of driver distraction with response time and miss rate as metrics of cognitive workload. However, it is not clear which metric is more sensitive and whether sensitivity is maintained for visual tasks. The objective of this study was to assess the sensitivity of the TDRT to changes in cognitive workload and to examine whether the sensitivity depends on task modality. A driving simulator study was conducted with 24 participants. The study included restaurant selection tasks with three presentation modalities (auditory, visual, and hybrid) and two difficulty levels (low and high). The high difficulty level was designed to be more cognitively demanding than the low difficulty level. Mixed-effects models were applied to examine the TDRT metrics and task difficulty level. The model controlled for age group, gender, and included a random effect for participants. The high difficulty level of the auditory tasks significantly increased the likelihood of missing a TDRT stimulus. No statistically significant differences were observed for visual and hybrid tasks. TDRT response time was not significantly associated with the difficulty level, regardless of task modality. In this study, the binary outcome TDRT miss was thus considered a more sensitive metric of cognitive workload than TDRT response time. TDRT response time can still be used to measure cognitive workload when tasks are relatively easy and the TDRT miss rate is close to zero. In addition, the sensitivity of the TDRT miss diminished for tasks that involved a visual component. Researchers who use TDRT to measure the cognitive workload associated with visual tasks should be aware of this limitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-108
Number of pages11
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Cognitive workload
  • Distraction
  • Driving simulator
  • Secondary task
  • Tactile detection response task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Transportation
  • Applied Psychology


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