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Why do we turn down the stereo in the car when we’re lost?
Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 26th Feb 2014

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 February 24, 2014 posted by Nigel - Redferret.net

It’s a pretty common scenario. You’re driving to a new destination and get lost and you’re late. Cue confusion, arguments, discord and general disharmony in the vehicle. Also, strangely, there’s also a typical situation where someone reaches over and turns the stereo system down or off. Ever wondered why?

image: shutterstock

Well apparently it’s for the same reason that many countries now ban the use of mobile phones while driving. You see when our brain listens, it reduces the visual function, in effect our attention is split, and there’s only so much of it to go round. A 2005 study by Professor Steven Yantis of Johns Hopkins University, found that when subjects had their attention to listening to audio, the visual part of their brain recorded decreased activity, and vice versa.

Apparently the problem is that we can’t multitask very well, and when we try we tend to make more mistakes or perform tasks slower.

Most of the recent research has of course been directed at learning about situations involving driving and other activities such as talking on a cell phone, but there may be some correlation to strange situations such as those where airline pilots ignore warnings from instruments and co-pilots before crashing. Could it be that the brain is simply too overloaded to cope with all the incoming signals?

Whatever the causes, it looks as though we should take a bit more care not to overload our poor old grey cells beyond their capacity. Just because we can get a computer to do two things at once, doesn’t imply that we should expect the same of our mental engine.



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