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Safety Science 47 (2009) 12541259

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Emotions drive attention: Effects on drivers behaviour

Christelle Pcher *, Cline Lemercier, Jean-Marie Cellier
Cognition, Langues, Langage et Ergonomie (CLLE), UTM, EPHE, CNRS, Maison de la Recherche, Universit de Toulouse le Mirail,
5 alle Antonio Machado, 31058 Toulouse Cedex 9, France

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Emotional valence
Attention processes

Music is the favourite activity while driving. However, very few studies have investigated its impact on
driving performances. This study was designed to assess the effect of musics emotional valence on driving behaviour. Happy, sad and neutral music excerpts were alternated with no-music phases while driving in a simulator. Results showed that happy music distracted drivers the most as their mean speed
unexpectedly decreased and their lateral control deteriorated. Sad music inuenced drivers in a different
way as they drove slowly and kept their vehicle in its lane. These ndings were discussed within the
framework of attentional orienting and emotions.
2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

The combination of all musical characteristics conveys particular emotions (Bruner, 1990; Krumshansl, 2002). For instance, music with a low tempo, dissonant harmony and bass tones creates
sadness (e.g. Tchaikovskys Overture from Romeo and Juliet, 1869)
whereas music with a fast tempo, consonant harmony and highpitched sound makes people feel happy (e.g. Mozarts Eine Kleine
Nachtmusik, 1787), (Yvart, 2004). Gomez and Danuser (2007) question music as a vector of emotions and distinguish represented
emotions (perceived by listeners) and induced emotions (felt
by listeners), (2007, p. 377). A person may know what kind of music is presented but not necessarily feel the emotion the music is
supposed to induce. The two types of emotions also involve different physiological, behavioural and psychological mechanisms,
dependant on perceived arousal and valence of the musical emotion (Gabrielsson, 2002; Gomez and Danuser, 2007).
Emotion is actually dened as an individual evaluation of an
emotional relevant event. Consequently, each emotional experience varies in time and between subjects (Frijda, 1994). It is a complex process with different and complementary ways of
expressing: physiological, behavioural and cognitive (Ekman,
1982; Frijda, 1986; Schwartz et al., 1981). This cognitive assessment integrates two main dimensions: arousal and valence. Arousal is the degree of physiological activation depicted in a vertical
continuum stretching from the lowest to the highest degree (from
calm and exhaustion to tension and excitement). Valence is a
hedonistic value which corresponds to the way people experience
a situation (pleasantness). It can be depicted in a horizontal
continuum from the most negative emotional experience to the
most positive (from sadness to joy), (Bower, 1981; FeldmanBarrett and Russell, 1998; Russell, 1980). However, the distinction
between emotions is not so clear and Manichean (i.e., black and
white). For instance, anger and sadness are both dened as

In their recent survey on in-car listening to music, Dibben and

Williamson (2007) showed that listening to music while driving
is the preferred activity of the majority of drivers. People report
emotional effects as being their strongest motivation (Dibben
and Williamson, 2007; Krumshansl, 2002; Sloboda et al., 2001).
Interestingly, little is known about its effects on driving (Young
et al., 2003). Our study is precisely set out to investigate this question by focusing on one particular characteristic of music its emotional valence on drivers attentional behaviour.
Music is a multi-component physical object. It is composed of a
set of sounds which are linked and ordered by specic grammar
rules governing melody, mode, harmony, rhythm, tone and pitch
(Mursell, 1932). So far, the majority of studies deal with the impact
of tempo on cognition (Dalla Bella et al., 2001; Khalfa et al., 2008).
In that sense, it has been demonstrated that performances improve
with a fast musical tempo in the background. Some other studies
have considered the impact of music tempo on behaviour in more
complex and dynamic situations, such as driving (Beh and Hirst,
1999; McKenzie, 2004). Brodsky (2002) showed that the faster
the tempo, the higher the impairment on driving performance.
Three different tempos were presented (slow, moderate and fast
tempo) as participants drove. Speed, speed estimation and the
number of trafc violations (e.g. collisions, running red lights and
straying onto another lane) increased with a fast music tempo.
These results clearly indicate that music tempo alters driving
behaviour, nevertheless, it does not reect all the complexity of
the music impact.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 0561 50 35 37; fax: +33 0561 50 35 33.
E-mail address: (C. Pcher).
0925-7535/$ - see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


C. Pcher et al. / Safety Science 47 (2009) 12541259

negative emotions but their features (interpretation, appraisal,

physiological state, action potential, overt behaviour etc.) are very
The period from 1980 to the present day has provided a wealth
of literature describing the impact of emotional valence on cognition and information processing (Chartrand et al., 2006; Chepenik
et al., 2007; Schwarz and Clore, 1996). A negative emotion, such
as sadness, is associated with an accommodative processing style
where the attentional focus is narrowed to particular current elements of the environment (Fiedler and Bless, 2001). Empirically,
sadness involves longer reaction times, a low self-esteem score,
negative bias, distortions in judgement, pessimism (Power and
Dalgleish, 2008; Gotlib and McCann, 1984; Silvia and Abele, 2002)
and a tendency to self-focus and to ruminations (Lyubomirsky
et al., 2003; Silvia et al., 2005). Conversely, a positive emotion
such as joy is associated with an assimilative processing style,
characterized by a broadening of attentional focus, i.e., the taking
into account of future plans and actions (Fiedler and Bless, 2001;
Rowe et al., 2007). It leads to shorter reaction times and an excessively high self-condence score (which can result in greater risktaking) (Wright and Bower, 1992; Power and Dalgleish, 2008). A
large number of studies highlighted this distinction between the
two processing styles. For example, Koster et al. (2005) examined
mood-congruent attentional bias in dysphoria. Dysphoric and
non-dysphoric participants performed an attentional task with positive, negative and neutral stimuli. Results indicated that dysphoric participants maintained their attention on negative
stimuli and failed to disengage attention from it, particularly for
longer stimuli presentation. Koster et al. (2005) conrmed the
mood-congruent effect and highlighted all the difculties for dysphoric-depressed people in devoting their attention to all elements
of their environment. Wadlinger and Isaacowitz (2006) observed a
different pattern of results when inducing a positive emotion. Half
of the participants were positively induced and half were non-induced before performing an attentional task with negative, positive and neutral visual stimuli. Results showed that induced
participants xated more highly-positive and peripheral stimuli
than the control group and did more saccades for neutral and positive stimuli. Authors concluded that a positive emotion was not
only associated with a broadened attention to positive stimuli
but also this attentional broadening facilitated the maintenance
of the current positive emotion. All these results demonstrate precisely that emotion and attention are linked and have an impact on
performances. In a more complex and dynamic situation such as
driving, however, the question of how performances are inuenced
still remains.
In the research eld of driving, the reciprocal inuence between
emotion and attention is of great interest. Driving requires high
attentional resources (Chilsholm et al., 2008; Lemercier and Cellier,
2008; Wickens et al., 2008) in order to manoeuvre, control and
plan (Dibben and Williamson, 2007; Michon, 1985; Young et al.,
2003). Since the 1970s, a large number of studies have dealt with
the impact of external (e.g. road, trafc, weather, in-vehicle systems, etc.) and internal variables (e.g. age, expertise, fatigue, drugs,
etc.) on drivers attention (Levis-Evans and Charlton, 2006; Strayer
et al., 2003). Mesken (2006) put forward that many emotions (as
internal variables) occur while driving in both laboratory and onroad studies. Self-reports, questionnaires and driving simulations
were used. In one study, the author noticed that drivers who experienced anger accelerated and committed more trafc violations
than others. Mesken (2006) concluded that emotions inuence
trafc risk evaluation and general driving behaviour. Nevertheless,
this conclusion is modulated with regards to other results about
experiencing anger while driving. Anger is one of the most common negative emotion experienced during driving (Deffenbacher
et al., 2002; Mesken et al., 2007), leading to aggressive driving

behaviour (Parker et al., 1998; Ellison-Potter et al., 2001). In this

sense, angry drivers intentionally endanger others with aggressive
verbal and/or physical expressions; they also use their car to trouble other users etc. (Deffenbacher et al., 2003). This aggressive
behaviour needs to be distinguished from risky behaviour (Dula
and Scott Geller, 2003; Deffenbacher et al., 2003) where drivers
unintentionally perform dangerous actions (dangerous for themselves or others) such as speeding, manoeuvring without signalling, eating, drinking, phoning etc. While anger often involves
aggression, other emotions like sadness, discontentment or joy
are likely to impact on attention, leading to a different driving
style. For instance, Bulmash et al. (2006) investigated the psychomotor disturbance in depression with a driving simulator. Major
Depressive Disorder patients exhibited not only slower reactions
times but also a larger number of car crashes when compared to
controls. These results are consistent with reaction time decits
on cognitive tasks and an elevated risk of an accident due to delayed reactions in dynamic situations for sad and depressed individuals (Margolis et al., 2002). Again, it can not be generalized to
all driving situations. For instance, Vassallo et al. (2008) studied
the co-occurrence of risky behaviours and other problem behaviours among Australian drivers. They indicated that emotional
problems such as anxiety and depression were not signicantly
associated with risky behaviours.
In line with this theoretical and methodological background,
the current study therefore sought to examine the effects of emotions on drivers attentional behaviour. In order to convey emotion,
happy, neutral and sad music excerpts were presented while driving on a simulator. It was assumed that listening to sad music
would lead drivers to adopt an accommodative processing style,
with a no risk, general slowing down, driving behaviour (Power
and Dalgleish, 2008; Vassallo et al., 2008; Gotlib and McCann,
1984). In contrast, listening to happy music would lead drivers
to adopt an assimilative processing style, characterized by fast
driving and a tendency to take risks (Fiedler and Bless, 2001;
Wright and Bower, 1992; Power and Dalgleish, 2008).
2. Method
2.1. Participants
Seventeen volunteers participated in the experiment. The sample comprised eight men and nine women aged between 21 and
29 years old (Mean = 25.37, SD = 2.24). All participants had a valid
French drivers licence, for at least 4 years and with 10,000 km
driving experience per year. They all had normal or corrected
vision, and did not take any kind of medication.
2.2. Musical stimuli
Eighteen 1-min music excerpts were selected for the experimental audio-track. Musical periods (named Driving with Music
phase DM-) alternated with silent periods lasting 1 min (named
Driving Alone phase DA-), (see Fig. 1). These silent periods were
introduced to control for the effects of the preceding musical excerpt and to insure a recovery and preparation time for participants. The random presentation of excerpts basically created
situations where music of the same emotional valence could be







Fig. 1. Organization of the music soundtrack with an alternation of Driving with

Music phases (DM) and Driving Alone phases (DA). Music excerpts were happy
(DMhap/DAhap), sad (DMsad/DAsad) or neutral (DMneu/DAneu).


C. Pcher et al. / Safety Science 47 (2009) 12541259

presented consequentially. Each DM phase was compared with the

previous DA phase. For instance, DM hap (Driving with happy Music) was compared with DA hap (Driving Alone phase presented
just before DM with happy excerpts).
All 1-min excerpts had been pre-tested using the Self-Assessment Manikin scale (S.A.M., non verbal pictorial assessment technique, Bradley and Lang, 1994) with 30 students to discriminate
the emotional valence. Thus, the experimental soundtrack contained six sad music excerpts, six happy music excerpts and six
music excerpts. Excerpts were taken from soundtracks, instrumental pieces, and performances with lyrics.
2.3. Apparatus
The xed-based simulator used for the experiment was located
at the University of Toulouse II-Le Mirail and consisted of a complete automobile (Renault 19) with automatic transmission. It
was positioned 5 m in front of a 3  4 m projection screen, providing a 180 eld of vision. Sensors on the steering wheel, accelerator
and brake collected information about mean speed, proportion of
Time to Line Crossing (T.L.C., time in seconds before going over
the hard shoulder line), braking and accelerating amplitude every
200 ms. Both the training and experimental circuits were highways
with two-lane trafc in each direction (separated by a grass median strip). The two scenarios used daytime dry-road conditions
with good visibility. These circuits did not include other road users.
Bend warning signs and road signs announced slight bends and
sharp turns.
2.4. Procedure
First, participants completed a questionnaire to assess their
interest in driving and music. They were then given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the driving simulator using a
1545-min adaptation sequence. Training involved drivers controlling both trajectory and speed (40 km/h, 80 km/h, and
120 km/h). After a 5-min break, participants performed the experimental session for 37 min. Within this session, they had to drive in
the right-hand lane, control their trajectory, maintain speed between 80 and 120 km/h and brake before signicant bends. The
experimental sound track was presented with an alternation of
music periods (with three emotional valences) and silent periods
of 1-min each. Drivers were told that driving was the priority, even
in the presence of music.
At the end of the experiment, all participants were individually
interviewed to assess their feelings, describe their main difculties
while driving and express the impact of musics emotional valence
on their driving performances. Lastly, they were informed about
the experiments goals and thanked for their participation.

3.1. Mean speed

The analysis revealed a main effect of Phase [F(1, 16) = 50.54;
MSe = 10.1; p = .000]. Mean speed was about 95 km/h for DM
phases which increased to 99.4 km/h for DA phases. A main effect
of Valence [F(1, 16) = 78.71; MSe = 7.8; p = .000] was found. An
interaction between Phase and Valence [F(2, 32) = 36.83;
MSe = 8.5; p = .000] was observed, (see Fig. 2). Planned comparisons revealed that mean speed decreased greatly for DMhap
(86.6 km/h), compared to DAhap (97.5 km/h), [F(1, 16) = 67.27;
MSe = 15.79; p = .000]. It increased slightly for DMsad (97 km/h),
compared to DAsad (101 km/h), [F(1, 16) = 14.13; MSe = 4.79;
p = .001]. Finally, DMneu (100 km/h) did not differ from DAneu
(99 km/h), [F(1, 16) = 0.49; NS].
These results show that longitudinal control is dependant on
the emotional valence of music. Happy music is associated with
an important decrease of mean speed whereas it slightly decreases
for sad music. There are no differences of mean speed for neutral
3.2. Proportion of TLC < 0.6 s
Analysis indicated neither an effect of Phase [F(1, 16) = 0.06; NS],
nor an effect of Valence [F(1, 16) = 0.72; NS]. However, there is an
interaction between Phase and Valence [F(2, 32) = 6.91;
MSe = 2.5; p = .003], (see Fig. 3). Planned comparisons revealed that
the proportion TLC < 0.6 s increased for DMhap (9.7%), compared to
DAhap (8.1%), [F(1, 16) = 160.17; MSe = 16.57; p = .000]. Proportion
TLC < 0.6 s decreased for DMsad (8.5%), compared to DAsad (8.9%)
[F(1, 16) = 118.52; MSe = 21.91; p = .000] and DMneu (7.5%) compared to DAneu (8.9%), [F(1, 16) = 132.41; MSe = 17.19; p = .000].
Results demonstrate that lateral control deteriorated for happy
music (proportion of TLC < 0.6 s increases, indicating that participants drove closer to the hard shoulder line). Inversely, lateral control improved for both sad and neutral music (proportion of
TLC < 0.6 s decreases, showing that participants drove far from
the hard shoulder line).
3.3. Post-experimental individual interviews
At the end of the experiment, participants were interviewed
about their perception of the impact of music on their driving.

3. Results
A 2 (Phase: Driving Alone DA- and Driving with Music
DM-)  3 (Valence of music: happy hap-, sad sad-, and neutral
neu-) ways repeated measures ANOVA was conducted on both
longitudinal and lateral parameters. Mean speed is the most common parameter to analyze longitudinal control and is expressed in
km/h. Proportion of TLC < 0.6 s is an indicator of lateral control and
corresponds to the proportion of time (in seconds) before driving
over the hard shoulder line (the higher the proportion of
TLC < 0.6 s, the closer the hard shoulder line). Planned comparisons
between Driving Alone DA- phases and Driving with Music DMphases were performed in order to observe the specic effects of
the emotional valence of music. An alpha level of .05 was used
for all statistical tests.

Fig. 2. Mean Speed in km/h as a function of the emotional valence of music (happy,
sad and neutral) and the phase (Driving with Music and Driving Alone phases).

C. Pcher et al. / Safety Science 47 (2009) 12541259

Fig. 3. Proportion TLC < 0.6 s as a function of the emotional valence of music
(happy, sad and neutral) and the phase (Driving with Music and Driving Alone

All drivers reported that happy music was the most disturbing.
Nearby 76% of drivers were distracted by music because they followed the melody, they sang, whistled, and/or clapped their hands.
As one driver put it, It was hard for me to control what I did with
this kind of music because I had to follow the rhythm and lyrics. I
felt good and, to be honest, driving was no longer my priority.
Interestingly, drivers described an opposite effect for sad music
excerpts. Another driver reported that with sad songs, I was calmer and I couldnt help feeling sad. The rhythm and melody caught
my attention and I couldnt help listening to them. When sad songs
were played, I tended to think about what was wrong with me, my
job or my family. At this point and contrary to happy music excerpts, experimenters observed that drivers were extremely focused as a result of keeping quiet and only 2% of them hummed
songs. Still participants expressed the need to concentrate and be
calm for this type of music; none of them noticed any important
deterioration in their driving performance.
This is an extremely interesting point in comparison with the
perception of neutral music. One driver expressed it as some of
the music excerpts, the ones you called neutral, didnt affect me
at all. By this, I mean, I dont know whether I felt happy or sad or
both. I didnt really listen when it was being played. I just kept
on driving. The music just didnt exist for me. It was useless. Here,
for 92% of drivers, music with a neutral valence was characterized
by the absence of any effect on behaviour.
4. Discussion
Previous research about driving has found that concurrent tasks
(phone conversation, integrated systems manipulation or radio listening, etc.) impact on drivers attention. With regards to radio listening, studies have only dealt with the effects of listening to
specic broadcasts (weather or political broadcasts). It is surprising
because people actually spend most of their driving time listening
to music on their radio or CD player, particularly for its emotional
nature (Dibben and Williamson, 2007). In this study, we specically examined the impact of musics emotional valence on drivers
Results conrmed the contrasting effect of music on driving
according its emotional valence. Driving with neutral music represented a baseline situation where drivers stayed concentrated on


their primary task, driving. As a result, mean speed was maintained

at 100 km/h for both neutral and no-music phases. Surprisingly,
lateral control deteriorated with a signicant decrease of the proportion of TLC < 0.6 s for neutral music, compared to no-music
phases. It could be argued that each no-music phase was not only
a recovery time but also a preparation and expectation time concerning music type of the next excerpt. In case of a neutral music
excerpt, participants did not listen to it and they only wanted to
drive as in their everyday life. Consequently, longitudinal control
was not affected and the distance from the hard shoulder line reected drivers natural tendency to be closer to the centre on
straight roads, specically in right-hand drive countries (Rosey
et al., 2008; Steyvers and de Waard, 2000). When the neutral music
excerpt ended, driving was re-adapted for a new preparation phase
and so on.
Driving with happy music involved a deterioration of control.
Unexpectedly, if compared to a no-music situation, mean speed
was slower (86.6 km/h) whereas the proportion of TLC < 0.6 s
was higher, showing a tendency to stray onto the hard shoulder
line. Nonetheless, it conrmed that drivers did not control their
longitudinal and lateral driving parameters. In their report, 76%
of our set of drivers agreed with the conclusion that happy music
affected their behaviour most. They felt happy, joyful and tended
to tap on their wheel or whistle along to the music. Happy music
has particular technical characteristics (i.e., fast tempo, high pitch,
happy lyrics etc.) which are, in essence, external sources which
could attract drivers attention. They are not aware of their reactions to music (i.e., with tapping, singing along etc.) and they are
easily distracted from their driving task (Posner, 1980; Lemercier
and Cellier, 2008). Drivers who were particularly sensitive to happy music reacted with gestures and mimics, and unconsciously
created a dual-task situation (for instance, driving and whistling)
increasing their mental load (Blanco et al., 2006; Recarte and
Nunes, 2002; Michon, 1985). They were no longer able to control
their parameters, resulting in a deterioration of mean speed and
proportion of TLC < 0.6 s.
This rst external attentional control also occurred when drivers listened to sad music excerpts. The consequences, however,
were substantially different from the aforementioned situation.
Mean speed slightly decreased (101 km/h with sad music, compared to 98 km/h without music) as well as the proportion of
TLC < 0.6 s. Drivers not only tried to maintain a no risk speed
but also to control their trajectory in the centre lane. In their report, they said their attention was automatically caught up by
the rhythm or the lyrics of sad music (Posner, 1980). Nonetheless,
they added that this type of music also induced a withdrawn attitude. It could suggest that attentional focus was progressively oriented to an internal stimulus. According to Posner (1980), internal
control is voluntary, progressive and durable. Lemercier and Cellier
(2008) dened it as inattention. Drivers involuntarily listened to
music but they were gradually overcome with the emotion of the
music and recollected personal emotional events that echoed the
music. As a result, they had to adapt their driving to reduce all potential risks and to have enough time to correct their driving actions (Summala, 2002).
Our ndings supported the hypothesis of contrasted effects of
emotions, according to its valence. However, the manipulation of
this variable in a dynamic situation such as driving, considering
the traditional opposition between positive and negative emotions,
remains uncertain. Our results indicated that sad music would lead
to no-risk driving whereas happy music would be associated with
more dangerous driving (with regards to an unexpected speed decrease and a tendency to drive near the hard shoulder line). As a
matter of fact, it would be clever to consider emotions not only
for their valence but also for the consequences on drivers behaviour (i.e., in terms of risky/no risk, aggressive or passive behaviour


C. Pcher et al. / Safety Science 47 (2009) 12541259

and so on). For instance, negative emotions such as anger and frustration would lead to aggressive behaviour: faster speeds, extreme
use of the brake and accelerator, verbal and physical aggression to
others (Deffenbacher et al., 2002, 2003; Stephens and Groeger,
2006). Negative emotions as sadness and depression, conversely,
would lead to a more passive attitude involving attentional self-focus, longer reaction times (Bulmash et al., 2006) and some attempts to control both lateral and longitudinal parameters, in a
none risky way. Positive emotions such as joy and happiness would
engage drivers and distract them with risk-taking and some difculties in controlling both speed (decrease of mean speed) and trajectory (near the hard shoulder line). Finally, it could be supposed
that another positive emotion like excitement would create a different driving style speed increase, a better acknowledgment of
stimuli on central vision, shorter reaction times but numerous
driving errors (Brodsky, 2002; Turner et al., 1996).
It is worth noting that this new and hypothetical classication
of emotions requires both theoretical and experimental validation
in different driving situations. Indeed, the use of music as an emotional stimulus is quite ecological while driving but some questions remain. Drivers were quite young and maybe more
sensitive to the modern music presented in the experiment (for
example, for a happy music excerpt we used Everybody needs
somebody from The Blues Brothers soundtrack). Furthermore, the
impact of neutral music has to be discussed. We are not sure that
all participants denitively perceived all excerpts as neutral, despite the pre-test. Again, the distinction between represented
and induced emotions is essential (Gomez and Danuser, 2007).
Another methodological limitation of this current study is the type
of road used for the experiment. It was a straight 2  2 lane highway (except for some slight curves), without trafc and road signs.
Results could be very different in a more complex situation, as in
slow trafc conditions on an urban road for instance.
The current research is in keeping with other experimental
studies on emotions and driving. We observed that music with different emotional valence distracted drivers attention with different ways of expressing. Further research may be directed in
determining what exact attentional function (detection, orienting
and control) is inuenced by musical emotion. For this purpose,
we aim to develop an adaptation of the Attentional Network Test
(ANT, Fan et al., 2002) in a simulated and more complex driving

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