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The effects of taboo-related distraction on driving performance

Chan, Michelle; Madan, Christopher R.; Singhal, Anthony


Roadside billboards containing negative and positive emotional content have been shown to influence driving performance, however, the impact of highly arousing taboo information is unknown. Taboo information more reliably evokes emotional arousal and can lead to greater attentional capture due to its inherent ‘shock value.’ The objective of the present study was to examine driver distraction associated with four types of information presented on roadside billboards: highly arousing taboo words, moderately arousing positive and negative words, and non-arousing neutral words. Participants viewed blocks of taboo, positive, negative and neutral words presented on roadside billboards while operating a driving simulator. They also responded to target (household-related) words by pressing a button on the steering wheel. At the end of the session, a surprise recall task was completed for all the words they saw while driving. Results showed that taboo words captured the most attention as revealed by better memory recall compared to all the other word types. Interestingly, taboo words were associated with better lane control compared to the other word types. We suggest that taboo-related arousal can enhance attentional focus during a complex task like simulated driving. That is, in a highly arousing situation, attention is selectively narrowed to the road ahead, resulting in better lane control.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2016-07
Journal Acta Psychologica
Print ISSN 0001-6918
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 168
Pages 20-26
Keywords Attention; Taboo; Arousal; Emotion; Driver distraction; Memory
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: The effects of taboo-related distraction on driving performance; Journal Title: Acta Psychologica; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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