GAINESVILLE---While much of the world is accustomed to driving in the right lane, in some ways the human brain might be better suited to left-side navigation, a new University of Florida study suggests.
"In our laboratory experiment, which did not involve driving, we found that the brain may pay more attention to faraway distractions when they are on the left than on the right, a visual attentional bias that causes people to be drawn toward the distraction," said Dr. Anna Barrett, a visiting research assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine's department of neurology.
"For U.S. drivers, 'left far space' is extremely important, because that is where we see oncoming traffic."
Barrett worked on the experiment with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, the James E. Rooks Jr. professor of neurology, and Dr. Gregory Crucian, a visiting research assistant professor in neurology. Their work is one piece of a wider effort by scientists to understand how the brain processes and prioritizes information received through the senses. Such research holds wide-ranging implications for understanding how people learn and remember, respond to emergencies or even how they are attracted to commercial advertising.
Most drivers appear to have little trouble adjusting to this attentional bias, said Barrett, who presented her findings last month in Boston at the annual U.S. meeting of the International Neuropsychological Society. But it may pose difficulties for those who have suffered a brain injury or who may be impaired neurologically--by alcohol consumption, for example.
"Several years ago, we met a patient who had had a stroke who told us one of her major concerns was that she veered when she drove," said Barrett, explaining the study's origins. "She noticed that when there were people on the side of the road, she would steer toward them. She had problems with directing her movements in space when she could see a distraction ahead."