Prefrontal cortex activation and young driver behaviour: a fNIRS study
Foy, Hannah J, and Runham, Patrick and Chapman, Peter (2016) Prefrontal cortex activation and young driver behaviour: a fNIRS study. PLoS ONE . ISSN 1932-6203
Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156512
Road traffic accidents consistently show a significant over-representation for young, novice and particularly male drivers. This research examines the prefrontal cortex activation of young drivers and the changes in activation associated with manipulations of mental workload and inhibitory control. It also considers the explanation that a lack of prefrontal cortex maturation is a contributing factor to the higher accident risk in this young driver population. The prefrontal cortex is associated with a number of factors including mental workload and inhibitory control, both of which are also related to road traffic accidents. This experiment used functional near infrared spectroscopy to measure prefrontal cortex activity during five simulated driving tasks: one following task and four overtaking tasks at varying traffic densities which aimed to dissociate workload and inhibitory control. Age, experience and gender were controlled for throughout the experiment. The results showed that younger drivers had reduced prefrontal cortex activity compared to older drivers. When both mental workload and inhibitory control increased prefrontal cortex activity also increased, however when inhibitory control alone increased there were no changes in activity. Along with an increase in activity during overtaking manoeuvres, these results suggest that prefrontal cortex activation is more indicative of workload in the current task. There were no differences in the number of overtakes completed by younger and older drivers but males overtook significantly more than females. We conclude that prefrontal cortex activity is associated with the mental workload required for overtaking. We additionally suggest that the reduced activation in younger drivers may be related to a lack of prefrontal maturation which could contribute to the increased crash risk seen in this population.
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