Sixth sense protects you while driving, except when texting

New York: A sixth sense steadies drivers’ hands and helps them stay on track, even when they are absent-minded or emotionally upset, except when they are engaged in texting on their mobile phones, a study says.

In the study, 59 volunteers were asked to drive the same path of a highway four times under — ‘normal conditions’ of being focused on driving; while distracted with cognitively challenging questions; while distracted with emotionally charged questions; and while pre-occupied with texting trivialities.

The findings showed that when the participants drove in all the three situations — except under normal conditions — their hands became jittery while handling the wheels but the vehicle went on a straight path .

“The driver’s mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course,” said lead researcher Ioannis Pavlidis from University of Houston, in the US.

However, when the drivers were distracted by texting, this jittery handling resulted in significant lane deviations and unsafe driving.

“What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense,” Pavlidis said.

This is because of the function performed by a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC — known to automatically intervene as an error corrector when there is conflict — in cognitive, emotional and sensorimotor, or texting, stressors.

“This raises the levels of physiological stress, funneling ‘fight or flight’ energy to the driver’s arms, resulting in jittery handling of the steering wheel, Pavlidis explained in the journal Scientific Reports.