Driver Distraction vis-à-vis the House Fly and Pigeons



Memory, attention, cognitive tunneling, and change detection are all critical components in discussing a product that can make the difference between ending your day at the morgue, or arriving safely at home for a nice evening with your family. They are, therefore, important ingredients in a review of texting and how certain countermeasures can reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities associated with distracted driving.

Over the years I’ve worked with many retailers to assist them in overcoming what I refer to as “Pigeon Memory.” Some psychologists use the term “Stimulus Filtering” for the same purpose. I developed the term after reading about pigeons and how they create a mental map of something and refer to that established “image” in their minds to assist them in spotting changes.

This provides pigeons with the ability to see changes that could help or harm them. If a piece of bread suddenly appears in a courtyard, and a pigeon familiar with the area flies over, the bird will quickly notice the opportunity. If the object is a snake, the pigeon will also notice it quickly and avoid the danger. This explains why scarecrows and plastic owls lose effectiveness over time. Pigeons and other birds will, in time, tune out the stationary threat; and only see new threats and opportunities.

I’ll ask retailers to change their perspective when reviewing their stores. It’s amazing what business owners and their managers notice when their heads are at ceiling height or near the floor. They see old posters, handwritten notes, wires, clutter, maintenance issues, unacceptable employee footwear and other anomalies they’ve subconsciously tuned out. Like pigeons, humans tend to filter what is unchanged and expected. A change in perspective and a focused seeking eye will bring back that which had been previously tuned out.

Attention is a limited resource and very selective. When you walk into your home, your eyes will see walls, photos, flooring, furniture, colors, window coverings, doorknobs, hinges, ceilings, lights, etc… Your brain is likely to filter out most of those items. You won’t consciously process those items because doing so would result in overload; besides you see them every day, so why squander limited mental resources to inventory and assess each of those items? Now, take that example to an extreme and imagine processing everything as you walk through a huge busy mall or the state fair. Your mind would be reeling under the massive sensory input.

On the other hand, this can also work in the reverse and not allow you to see stimulus that is unexpected. The human mind can only process a finite amount of information at a given time. While many people pride themselves on their ability to multitask, few individuals can effectively multitask in a meaningful way. Psychologists use various terms when addressing this subject, including “Inattentive Blindness,” “Inattentional Blindness” and “Perceptual Blindness.” Here’s a Wikipedia entry on the subject:

Inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness, is a psychological lack of attention that is not associated with any vision defects or deficits. It may be further defined as the event in which an individual fails to recognize an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight. When it simply becomes impossible for one to attend to all the stimuli in a given situation, a temporary blindness effect can take place as a result; that is, individuals fail to see objects or stimuli that are unexpected and quite often salient.

This is a deadly serious topic when discussing Distracted Driving. An Inattentional Blindness phenomenon referred to as “Cognitive Tunneling” very well describes what happens when a driver is focused on a distracting mental or physical task (i.e. texting) and filters out visual and auditory cues from their environment.

For example, a driver barreling down the freeway while engaged in text messaging is cognitively captured by texting and fails to react to various stimuli in the surrounding world. If traffic is stopped ¼ mile in front of the speeding car and the view is static (meaning no movement and all brake lights are on and unchanging), there are few visual cues to divert the driver’s attention from texting. This could be a form of short-term Pigeon Memory. No changes, no real alert.

Peripheral vision in the human eye is weak and not well suited for distinguishing color, shape, or detail. Conversely, peripheral vision is especially effective in noticing flicker and detecting motion. If nothing is happening in the traffic ahead, there are few visual stimuli to alert the driver to the stalled traffic. If the oncoming driver is engaged in text messaging and focused on his or her mobile device, “movement” on the periphery of their vision may alert them to the danger and result in accident avoidance; thereby obviating injuries, deaths, and property damage. 

While some might argue that bright brake lights will garner the texting party’s attention, they are dead wrong. Humans are attracted by changes in light, movement of light, disappearance and appearance of light – but not light itself. If light were that effective at garnering attention, our eyes would be drawn to the sun each time we venture outdoors.

It’s All About Motion Detection
All manner of animal life rely heavily on their internal motion detectors. House flies, for example, have two eyes; each with 3,000 to 6,000 lenses. Movement is readily observed by the fly when a single lens detects changes in brightness or contrast. Even small movements are instantaneously seen, and reacted to, by flies; and that’s why they’re so successful in safely treating themselves to your meal. This is called “Change Detection.” Humans, like most predators and prey, are designed to respond to change detection. When we detect a change, we are generally quick to respond.

Change detection (aka motion detection) is important to “Conspicuity” while driving. Although brake lights are conspicuous, if they are not changing they lose their ability to capture our attention. Ever wonder why emergency vehicles have flashing lights? They are placed on the vehicle and flash to make the vehicle very conspicuous and the changes in motion (flashing) enhance that conspicuity. The enhancement provides an attention-getting property designed to easily attract the focus of people within view of the emergency vehicle.

Numerous studies support the thesis that drivers engaged in text messaging will focus on their mobile device and fail to notice they are approaching stopped traffic. However, a combination of peripheral vision, change detection, conspicuity, (PCDC) and pulse width modulation (flashing) at the rear of passenger cars, can and does alert many following drivers to the oncoming danger and will effectively draw their focus away from smart phones and other distractions. The resulting mental realignment is toward the task of slowing their vehicle.

We recently reviewed a product for Genesis Systems designed for optimal PCDC via Pulse Width Modulation for the third brake light on passenger vehicles, and found the device very effective. Patented in 2016, it is the only digital product commercially available for modulating the third brake light that concurrently complies with (1) Federal Law and (2) provides continuous post-stop protection via proprietary Sure Stop Technology® modulation. We believe the safety enhancements associated with this product may very well save thousands of lives and millions of dollars.

In fact, the product’s safety features impressed me so much I’ve entered into discussions with the company; discussions that may result in my eventual association with both the product and the Genesis Systems. When the company CEO, George Jameson, asked me to consider an affiliation with his organization, he said his company motto is, “WE’RE THE SAFETY GUYS.” He then went on to say, “You are a safety guy as well. We believe your experience in the safety arena makes you a perfect match for our company.” Although we’ve not finalized a business relationship as of this writing, I can say with confidence that the Genesis product offering underscores their motto and leaves me seriously considering a formal relationship with Genesis Systems. 


Contact Genesis BLS for more information

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Steve provides ghostwriting services that include online articles and White Paper development. Additional writing services include collaborating with clients needing assistance in drafting critical correspondence, and other written works, tailored to specific goals.

Steve is also available as a consultant for businesses needing to identify underlying issues impacting business viability; as well as the development and deployment of solutions necessary to improve profitability, culture, and opportunities.
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