Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Brain Drain: Talking on Cell While Turning Left May Be Risky, Neuroimaging Shows

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Brain Drain: Talking on Cell While Turning Left May Be Risky, Neuroimaging Shows

Article excerpt

Making left turn while on cell taxes brain: study

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TORONTO - Drivers who talk on a cellphone -- even one that's hands-free -- while executing a left-hand turn at an intersection could be putting themselves at serious risk, say neuroscientists who imaged the brain to see how it copes with competing tasks.

Making a left turn and phone-chatting at the same time "could be the most dangerous thing they ever do on the road," said Tom Schweizer, director of neuroscience research at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Schweizer and his research team wanted to see how the brain deals with the often complex task of making a left turn at a busy intersection -- where most serious traffic accidents occur -- when coupled with a common distraction like conversing by cellphone.

The team set up a driving simulator, which includes a steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals, and a simulated traffic scenario on a monitor, inside a functional MRI. The high-tech machine captures real-time images of the brain while a person performs a task or reacts to stimuli.

Sixteen participants (seven females and nine males), aged 20 to 30, who had been driving an average of seven years, were put through simulated driving tests while in the MRI. For consistency in the study, all were right-handed.

They were asked to execute a number of normal driving manoeuvres, including a left turn, said Schweizer, explaining that their field of vision is filled with the traffic-scenario image, which is similar to looking through a vehicle's windshield.

As a subject performed the various tasks, researchers watched another screen showing what areas of their brain were activated.

"What you see when they're doing a left-hand turn at a busy intersection, the entire brain lights up, which is far different from what brain areas are used when just doing straight driving or making a right-hand turn," he said. …

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