Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 79, Issue 6, pp 1795–1803 | Cite as

Modeling cognitive load effects of conversation between a passenger and driver

  • Gabriel Tillman
  • David Strayer
  • Ami Eidels
  • Andrew Heathcote


Cognitive load from secondary tasks is a source of distraction causing injuries and fatalities on the roadway. The Detection Response Task (DRT) is an international standard for assessing cognitive load on drivers’ attention that can be performed as a secondary task with little to no measurable effect on the primary driving task. We investigated whether decrements in DRT performance were related to the rate of information processing, levels of response caution, or the non-decision processing of drivers. We had pairs of participants take part in the DRT while performing a simulated driving task, manipulated cognitive load via the conversation between driver and passenger, and observed associated slowing in DRT response time. Fits of the single-bound diffusion model indicated that slowing was mediated by an increase in response caution. We propose the novel hypothesis that, rather than the DRT’s sensitivity to cognitive load being a direct result of a loss of information processing capacity to other tasks, it is an indirect result of a general tendency to be more cautious when making responses in more demanding situations.


Single-bound diffusion Detection Response Task Driving simulation 


Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriel Tillman
    • 1
    • 4
  • David Strayer
    • 2
  • Ami Eidels
    • 1
  • Andrew Heathcote
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.School of MedicineUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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