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Source: Simon Fraser University

Take this test-drive - in the lab

November 9, 2006


Tom Spalek, 604.291.3105; Marianne Meadahl/Julie Ovenell-Carter, PAMR, 604.291.3210;

November 09, 2006

In Tom Spalek’s new lab, drivers buckle up and hit a virtual highway. As they travel, researchers observe their stress levels, decision-making patterns, and factors that prompt safe or aggressive driving — even road rage.

The subjects are behind the wheel of a driving simulator, though the effect seems real enough from inside the device — in the driver’s seat of a partial Ford Focus — as life-size driving scenes unfold around it.

The simulator, produced by the U.S.-based DriveSafety Inc. and housed in SFU’s psychology department, is one of only a few in Canada. It can be used with other equipment designed to track eye movement or measure brain activity.

Spalek, a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University, says the simulator will enable researchers to study attention phenomena in more realistic situations than ever before — all in the comfort and safety of a lab.

"Most investigations of cognitive phenomena have used very simple and artificial stimuli," says Spalek. "Yet from this data we attempt to develop theories designed to explain our attentional interactions with the world. The critical question is, how well do these findings relate to everyday activities?"

Researchers will test a variety of factors, such as dividing tasks or even age differences, to see how they interact in determining a driver’s performance.

Investigations can also track how driving efficiency is affected by various in-auto devices, such as GPS displays, or DVD players — information of interest to organizations concerned with improving traffic safety.



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