The Brain Behind the Wheel: Do We Daydream More When We Drive

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Daydreaming While Driving: How Dangerous is it?

Daydreaming while driving is a complex problem to address, as daydreaming itself is an involuntary process; individuals cannot completely prevent their mind from wandering, and aside from rumble strips, there aren’t external measures in place to compensate for something like daydreaming while driving.

Daydreaming While Driving

A study published this summer in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that driving is a task that is particularly conducive for daydreaming. Participants in the study reported daydreaming while driving (in a driving simulation) for upwards of 70 percent of the time. Previous studies have estimated that daydreaming — thoughts unrelated or inspired by the task at hand — occupies up to 30 to 50 percent of our daily thinking time, suggesting that we daydream more when we drive.

Volunteers aged 18 to 29 partook in a driving simulation that consisted of a 20-minute “commute” on a monotonous freeway, followed by a task requiring them to be cognitively engaged (simulating “work”), and then a “return commute” to the starting point. This same drive was repeated for five days. While driving, participants’ brain patterns were measured for changes associated with daydreaming. Throughout the drive, they were also prompted at random to report if they were daydreaming at that moment, or if they were focused on the drive.

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