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Cheryl Actor Bolstad*

North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina

*Now at SA Technologies, Inc.

The aim of this research project was to study age-related differences in our ability to perceive and abstract
important information from the environment and to determine what physical and cognitive components are
related to this ability. Young, middle and older adults completed several questionnaires, a battery of
psychological tests, a standardized vision measure as well as several trials using a realistic driving
simulator. A concurrent memory probe technique was used to measure participant's ability to attend to
important information while driving. Their probe answers were checked against the actual simulator data
and a composite situation awareness (SA) score was created. Results confirm the hypotheses that older
adults have lower situation awareness when compared to younger and middle-aged adults. Factors that are
related to this ability include useful field of view (UFOV), perceptual speed, driving experience and self.
reported vision.

INTRODUCTION We can therefore speculate that the ability to attend

to important information (initial formation of SA) will also
During this century, we have been wimessing the change with age due to changes in these cognitive abilities and
"graying of America," with the average age of the population these differences will be more apparent as task complexity
steadily rising (Moody, 1994). Along with this aging increases. Therefore, older drivers that have deficits in certain
population is an increase in the number of licensed older cognitive and physical abilities will also be deficient in their
drivers, ability to attend to important information.
In general, good drivers are more aware of their The purpose of this study was to gain a better
surroundings, in part, because the ability to attend to important understanding of how normative aging changes affect a
and necessary information while driving is essential for good driver's ability to attend to important information in the
driving performance. This ability is embedded in the construct driving environment and to determine cognitive factors that
of Situation Awareness (SA), which is defined as the internal are related to this ability. A concurrent memory probe
conceptualization of the current situation (Endsley, 1997). I technique was used in this study to measure SA (the ability to
believe a person's ability to attend to important information attend to important information while driving). This research
during driving is related to the work on SA. Borrowing from tested the efficacy of this technique to discriminate between
the research in SA, we need to know if the driver is capable of different aged individuals.
perceiving, comprehending and understanding all that is
around them, and if they are able to guide their future actions METHOD
based on their understanding of the current situations. Lastly,
does this ability decline with age? Participants
Bolstad and Hess (2000) believe that age differences
in SA will be greatest during its initial formation: in the ability Drivers in three different age groups were recruited
to perceive what is important in the surrounding. For instance, for this study. The young adult group consisted of 16
while driving a car, such important information can be lane participants (]_ age 19.5, range = 16,25, M driving
position, speed and location of other cars. If drivers are not experience = 3.2 years). The middle-aged adult group
attending to the necessary information, it seems logical that consisted of 16 participants (M age 45.1, range = 40 - 50, M
performance will ultimately suffer. However, SA is closely driving experience = 29. I years), and the older adult group
related to experience. Thus, it seems likely that an consisted of 16 participants (M age = 70.4, range = 65 - 80, M
experienced older driver in certain situations and with certain driving experience = 54.1 years).
tasks can perform as well as younger driver. There may come
a time; however, when the experience will no longer insulate Design
the driver from performance decrements.
We can hypothesize that several cognitive and A 3 x 2 x 2 mixed factor design with age (young,
physical abilities are needed for the ability to attend to middle and old), trial and complexity level (moderate and
important information. These include vision, perception, high) was used. Complexity level and trial were within group
memory and attention. We know that these abilities change variables, such that all participants drove in the moderate and
with age (Laux, 1995; Salthouse, 1985; Smith & Earles, 1996) high complexity scenarios.
and are more pronounced as the task difficulty increases (Tun
& Wingfield, 1997).

Trials Situation

This research used a PC-based, high fidelity, fully The first partof the study involved the development
interactive driving simulator called STISM (Systems of the concurrent memory probe. The queries used in the
Technology Interactive Simulator). The simulator provided probes were created using a cognitive task analysis with the
both immediate visual and auditory feedback to the user as aid of experienced drivers. The analysis occurred in two
well as steering torque. It contained driving hardware, a stages; the first stage used unstructuredinterviews and the
steeringwheel and brakesystem (see Figure 1). second stage used a goal-directedtask analysis. Unstructured
Three 1l-rain test trials and one 15-rain practice interviews were conducted with five experienced drivers (_M_M
simulator trial was created for this study. The test trials driving experience = 18 years). They were asked, "What
contained both moderate and high complexity conditions as would you want to know to have perfect driving
well as a one-minute low complexity scenario. The practice performance?" The goal-directed task analysis was created to
trial began with 5 minutes of low complexity followed with 5 assure that the information obtained through the unstructured
minutes of moderate complexity and 5 minutes of high interviews was complete and representative of the
complexity. Complexity was manipulated by varying the requirements needed for good driving behavior. Two
content of the scenarios. In the low complexity condition, the experienced drivers performed the goal directed task analysis.
scenario was a four-lane road with no other traffic, buildings, From these two analyses a structured questionnaire was
turns or pedestrians in the scene (see Figure 2). In the created that contained a comprehensive list of possible
moderate complexity condition, the scenario contained a important driving elements, such as weather, speed and lane
nominal number of other cars, buildings and turns (see Figure position. Twenty-five participants (_M_ age = 55.0 and M__
3). In the high complexity condition, the road was also a four- driving experience = 38.8 years) rated the importance of these
lane road, but it contained 4 times the amount of traffic, items in terms of good driving behavior. The items were
buildings, turns and intersections with crosswalks, compared to the simulator data output list and the nine highest
It was hypothesized that SA performance would ranked items that could be collected by the simulator were
decline from the moderate to the high complexity scenario and used to create the situation awareness queries (see Table 1 ).

than the other age groups in this study.

older adults would exhibit greater decreases in performance iliii i_iii_ili}i_iii iiiiiiii!iiiiiiiiii

Figure 2: Low Complexity Scenario.

iiiiiiiiii!iiiiiiiiiiiii '"_ii ii
ilii _%_;_:=_i_::_::_:_:::::_::_::_:::_;:_:_:,_::_:
i i;I '_i'_

Figure 1" etup. Figure 3: Moderate Complexity Scenario.


_: i:" S_.-__O_AW_NES_ QUERIES .........

= workstation to have their UFOV measuredusing the Visual
How fast is the closest driver in front of you going? AttentionAnalyzer.
A. Fasterthan me After the UFOV assessment, participantsreceived a
B. Slower than me half hour of trainingon use ofthe STISM simulator,including
C. About the same speed the situationawareness measure. During the training session,
D. No cars in front participantscompleted the 15 rain practicetrial. This trial
What is currentcolor of the closest traffic signal in front began with the no complexity scenario and increasedin
of you? difficulty. Participantswere instructedto follow all the
A. Red roadwaysigns (speed limits, stop lights) and warnings,as they
B. Yellow would in the actualworld.
C. Green After training,participantsdrove in the three 11 min
Can you legally get through the next intersectionwithout driving trials.Twice during each complexity level (4 times per
stopping? trial)-- 2 1/2 and4 I/2 minutes into the scenario--the trialwas
A. Yes stopped to measure their situationawareness. Right before
B. No each stop, the experimenterquickly covered the computer
C. No intersection in sight screen with black poster board andfroze the simulation. The
Are you currentlytravelling? quick movement was used to reduce the effect of visual after
A. Above the speed limit images. The stops took no more than 2 rain andparticipants
B. At the speed limit answered all nine queries with regardsto what was important
C. Below the speed limit in their surroundings. During each probe stop,the queries
...... were randomized so the participantscould not anticipatethe
T_ible ii Sampie Situation AwarenessQueries. queries. Upon completion of these queries the simulation was
Background Measures
Background Questionnaire. A background
questionnaireand a standardizedhealth survey (SF-36; Ware, Participantsin this study were presentedwith three
1993) were used to collect data on health, age, driving abilities driving trials with 4 stops per trial(2 atthe moderate
and accidentrates. Some of the data from these questionnaires complexity level and 2 at the high complexity level) for a total
was used to gather descriptive data on the participantswhile of 12 concurrentmemory probe stops. During each of these
other data was used to determineif self-report driving data stops, participantsanswered a set of nine queries. The answers
was related to a person's situationawareness, to these queries were compared againstthe simulatordata file
UFOV. The Visual AttentionAnalyzer was used to to determine what was actuallyhappening in the condition at
measureUseful Field of View (UFOV) (Owsley, Ball & the momentof the stop. Participantsreceived a score of either
Keeton, 1995). The Visual Attention Analyzer instrument 1 or 0 depending uponthe correctness of their answer. The
consisted of a computer display with white targets againsta scores for all nine queries were then summedand averaged
black backgroundto provide for high contrast. Three different within each complexity level and trial for a total of six
subtasks are used to measure UFOV: 1) Speed of information situationawarenessscores per participant.
processing, 2) Divided attention, and 3) Selective attention. Participants were encouraged to complete all three
Perceptual Speed. Salthouse and Coon's (1994) letter trials of the driving task. Many older adults could not
comparison task was used to measure processing speed, completely finish the task due to several uncontrollable events,
Dynamic Working Memory. Dynamic working including simulator sickness and overrunning the allotted test
memory was measured using the Weschler Adult Intelligence time. Due to these problems and in order to optimize the
Scale- III (WAIS-III). Dynamic working memory is power of the statistical tests to identify the anticipated effects,
dependent on the role of the central executive (Morris & only the f'wsttwo trials were included in the following
Jones, 1990). This component is one of three that Baddley and analyses. Therefore, the analysis was performed using 4
Hitch (1974) propose make up working memory. Baddley situation awareness scores for each participant.
(personal communication, 1997) recommended using the Concurrent Memory Probe Performance (Sit). An
{WAIS-III) letter-number sequencing test to measure the Age Group X Trial X Complexity ANOVA was performed on
central executive memory component, the situation awareness score. As expected, there was a
significant age group effect, _F(2, 42) = 3.39, t2= .043 (see
Figure 4). A follow up Tukey HSD test revealed that older
PROCEDURE adults reported significantly less information (M = 60.51)
than younger (M = 66.23) and middle-aged adults (M = 68.85)
Testing took place in one day over a two-hour period. (l_S< .042), whose performance on the probe did not differ
Participants completed an informed consent sheet and a from each other.
background questionnaire. This was followed by a perceptual
speed and dynamic working memory task. Once the paper and
pencil tests were completed, participants moved to a computer

Factors Affecting Performance. in order to

iii_i ........... iii-_ ......... _= : determine what factors have an effect on an individual's
8¢ _ i: _ 6_ ....... ........... situation awareness, correlations were calculated between the
,_ 7_ baekgrotmd
probe score. measures
It was hypothesized
and the average
that concurrent
all measuresmemory

• 69
5_ have a smallconditions,
complexity correlationand
performance inthe moderate
demands increased
_ 4_ (high complexity scenario), the correlations would also
_ 3_ increase.However, nomeasures weresignificantly
_ withperformance usingtheconcurrent memory probemeasure
I0 from the moderate complexity condition (see Table 2)
_ In the high complexity condition, four measures were
¥_g _dd_e O_der moderately correlated with probe performance: age group
(-.41), UFOV divided attention task (-.32), UFOV selective
Figure 4: Percent of Queries Answered Corre_tly By Age attention task (-.40) and driving experience (-.40) (see Table
Group. 2). However, onlythecorrelation withtheUFOVselective
attention task was significant (12= .048, one-tailed). None of
Overall, all participants answered fewer queries the other tests that were hypothesized to be predictors reached
correctly when driving in high complexity conditions than in a significant level.
the moderately complex conditions, F(1, 42) = 85.79, tZ=

.029. However, the Age Group X Complexity interaction was M__i I _GH_
not significant, F(2, 42) = .37,12= .696, with the impact of I]ii!iiiiiii_AS__,_=,_i=11,i
CO_LEX_y_I=It iCO_LEX_Ti_==i i,,]t
performance oftheolderadults,middle-aged adultsand -"
younger adults did decline from the moderate complexity to Gender : .30"_
_ -.04
the high complexity conditions. Whereas the difference in Vision -.30" -26
probe performance was in the hypothesized direction, older (se_f,report) i
adults did not experience a greater decrease in probe _Medicat -.07 .09
performance than the other two groups. [_ProNems
A significant trial effect, F (i, 42) = 5.12, p_= .029, Dr_v!ng -.21 -.40"
of indicating
participants that with
improved (M practice,
= 63.4 vs.probe performance
M = 66.55) from i Accident Number
................ - "16 '.24
trial 1 to trial 2. A significant Age Group X Trial interaction, 'Ticket (,_Umber -,05 -.01
F__(2, 42) = 6.70, p_=.003, was also present (see Figure 5). Miles Driven ] .21 .11
When the interaction was examined using a Tukey HSD test, WM$ [ tt .t
the younger adults
performance exhibited
from trial significant
1 to trial improvement
2 (12< .001), whereas in
theprobe - Perceptual S_¢d
_ : ,: ] .3i* .26
differences between trials 1 and 2 for both the middle-aged .. LTOV-Percept_al -.02 -.20
and older adults were not significant. This indicates that there - UFOV*Divided -._7 -.32"
was a significant practice effect only for the young adults as ' UFOVoSe_ecfive "23 -.40"
the performance of the middle-aged and older adults remained
stable between trials. - _TOV-R_sk _ i02 -.t 9
...... s_.36
.. -.09 .03
: 1_. _ SF"36 Physical .t4 -.12 "
_[} *significant,
I_< f_;

7_: _ Table 2: Correlationsof the BackgroundVariables with the

6_ :_-,]:iiiiiiii_ii:iliiiiii
_'. ii!i?i:i_(:.:i!
i_ii Complexity.

::i_ ___ 2 __ Percent of Correctly Reported Information By Task

20: _........
_ _ Overall, the results from this study support the
: _ _:_ .... primary hypothesis that older adults have lower SA, as
.. :: ,_:-_:_:_:_:_.... :_ ,,:-<_:._:,_::_:_:::_:_i_.
_.t _ measured by performance on the concurrent memory probe
_'_g M_dd_e Oiler than both younger and middle-aged adults. Complexity also
affected SA performance in this study. The high complexity
Figure 5: Percent of Queries Answered Correctly By Age condition was designed to be more cognitively demanding and
Group and Trial. thus require more processing resources than the moderate

complexity condition. As expected, SA performance in the but they are not aware how fast they are going. Overall, it
moderate complexity condition was significantly better than appears that with increasing complexity older adults are more
that in the high complexity condition, susceptible to a narrowing of attention. They are aware of
While differences in SA performance between the their own performance, but less aware of their surroundings.
age groups were hypothesized to become more pronounced as Training programs that focus on expanding older adults view s
the complexity of the task increased, this did not bear out. of their surroundings and alerting them to their narrowing of
Results show that SA for all age groups declined from the attention could be very beneficial both to the older driver and
moderate complexity condition to the high complexity to the safety of others.
condition; however; older adults did not experience a greater In general, care must be taken when generalizing the
decrease in performance when compared to the other age results of a simulator study to the real world. Although the
groups, simulated environment is a close approximation to the real
A significant trial effect is also present. The SA task, it does not always measure what a person will do in
performance of the middle aged and older adults only reality.
improved slightly from trial 1 to trial 2, whereas the younger
adults' improvement in performance between trials is ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
significant. One plausible explanation is the younger adults
lack of driving experience. The younger adults may have This work was supported by a grant from the Institute on
initially approached the simulator as a computer game and not Aging at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The
a true driving task. After several probe stops, they realized author would also like to thank Dr. Karlene Ball for providing
that their driving abilities are being tested and thus adjust theft the Visual Attention Analyzer to measure UFOV.
behavior to optimize their test performance.
Surprisingly, relatively few background variables REFERENCES
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