The interaction of cognitive load and attention-directing cues in driving

Yi Ching Lee, John D. Lee, Linda Ng Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This study investigated the effect of a nondriving cognitively loading task on the relationship between drivers' endogenous and exogenous control of attention. Background: Previous studies have shown that cognitive load leads to a withdrawal of attention from the forward scene and a narrowed field of view, which impairs hazard detection. Method: Posner's cue-target paradigm was modified to study how endogenous and exogenous cues interact with cognitive load to influence drivers' attention in a complex dynamic situation. In a driving simulator, pedestrian crossing signs that predicted the spatial location of pedestrians acted as endogenous cues. To impose cognitive load on drivers, we had them perform an auditory task that simulated the demands of emerging in-vehicle technology. Irrelevant exogenous cues were added to half of the experimental drives by including scene clutter. Results: The validity of endogenous cues influenced how drivers scanned for pedestrian targets. Cognitive load delayed drivers' responses, and scene clutter reduced drivers' fixation durations to pedestrians. Cognitive load diminished the influence of exogenous cues to attract attention to irrelevant areas, and drivers were more affected by scene clutter when the endogenous cues were invalid. Conclusion: Cognitive load suppresses interference from irrelevant exogenous cues and delays endogenous orienting of attention in driving. Application: The complexity of everyday tasks, such as driving, is better captured experimentally in paradigms that represent the interactive nature of attention and processing load.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-280
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Attention
  • Attentional processes
  • Control of attention
  • Driver attention
  • Driver behavior
  • Dual-task performance
  • Field of view
  • Hazard detection
  • In-vehicle technology
  • Mergin in-vehilce technology
  • Pedestrian crossing signs
  • Surface transportation systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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