Driving with a satellite navigation system can be dangerous on the roads because trying to retain an image of the screen makes you ignore what is in front of your eyes, says a British study. While our eyes continue to see ahead, the visual messages seem unable to reach the brain when we are concentrating on something else, the researchers at the University College London (UCL) said.
Focusing on the detail of something we have just seen diverts our attention away from things happening around us in an effect known as "inattentional blindness", the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience reports. The most famous example of the phenomenon is the famous "invisible gorilla" experiment, where people watching a group of players passing a basketball around do not notice a man in a gorilla suit walking across the screen, according to the Telegraph.
GPS devices may cause "inattentional blindness"
The new study shows that even without the distraction of several moving objects in front of us, we can still become "blinded" simply by trying to remember an image. The UCL researchers showed a group of volunteers images containing different coloured squares and asked them to hold them in their mind, and told to expect a flash of light. Scans of the participants' brains revealed a lower level activity in the brain region which processes incoming visual information, while they were trying to recall the image.
Nilli Lavie, professor at the UCL, who led the study, said: "An example of where this is relevant in the real world is when people are following directions on a sat nav whilst driving."
"Our research would suggest that focusing on remembering the directions we've just seen on the screen means that we're more likely to fail to observe other hazards around us on the road, for example an approaching motorbike or a pedestrian on a crossing, even though we may be 'looking' at where we're going," Lavie added.