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A. H. WERTHEIM? TrafficResearchCenter, Institute of ExperimentalPsychology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands


4 April 1977;in reaised form 21 November 1977)

Abstract-The frequent occurrence of highway hypnosis, a lowered state of alertness leading to the development of drowsiness and fadure to react adequately to changes in the road situation, is a danger well recognized among professional drivers. Current theories concerning highway hypnosis do not satisfactorily explain its nature or its origins and are very difficult, if not impossible, to validate in experimental research. In this paper a theory is presented which explains highway hypnosis as a complex syndrome of changes in the human ability to perform several psychological functions. These changes result from the need to perform specrfic eye movements. This theory has been validated in the experimental research presented in tlus paper. The functions investigated concerned the ability to react quickly to visual signals, to use prior warning information in order to speed up such reactions, to detect movements in our visual surroundings, to recall information presented earlier and to maintain alertness (as indicated by alpha activity m the EEG). The experimental findings appear to explain many of phenomena of highway hypnosis. They are in line with the theory that highway hypnosis develops with the need to make those specific eye movements which are required when we have to look at aspects of our visual surroundings which move (relative to the observer) in a very predictable pattern. Some suggestions for further research and some practical measures, which may be helpful in reducing the dangers of highway hypnosis, are proposed.


to traffic safety, the occurrence of drowsiness and lapses in attention are of high prominence. Especially on highways it often occurs that drivers, suffering from fits of drowsiness, drive off the road or fail to notice road curves or velocity changes of other vehicles. The occurrence of hallucinations is a common observation among long distance truck drivers and many accidents happen due to the driver falling asleep. Although these phenomena are well known among professional drivers they have attracted relatively little interest in scientific literature. References are generally of a contemplatory nature and no attempts have been made to study these phenomena in rigid scientific research. Only a few explanations have been suggested. McFairland and Moseley [1954] suggested that fatigue may be the most important factor. It is however extremely difficult to measure fatigue (see for a discussion: Crawford [1971]). In addition it appears that drowsiness during car driving also occurs when there is no evidence of excessive fatigue [Roberts, 19711. Another suggestion was posed by Williams 119631, who introduced the term highway hypnosis. He suggested that monotony of the surroundings and the necessity to attend only to a very small part of the visual field might induce some kind of hypnotic trance. Williams showed that subjects who have been hypnotized can drive without difficulty. Although this explanation sounds quite attractive it is very difficult to verify. One difficulty is that the concept of monotony is not easily measured in such a way as to enable scientific experimentation. A second point is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to define a hypnotic trance in terms of behavioral or physiological measures2 Roberts [1971] has proposed another hypothesis. He suggested that the occurrence of excessive drowsiness might be due to what he termed functional hyperinsulinism, meaning a condition of oversensitivity to a certain concentration of sugar in the blood. A person suffering from functional hyperinsulinism might experience sudden attacks of lowered consciousness similar to those of diabetics, although less severe. The amount of sugar in the blood might be
tPresent address: Institute for Perception TNO, Kampweg 5, Soesterberg, The Netherlands. SAlthough Williams coined the term highway hypnosis to indicate a state of hypnotic trance, this paper is not concerned with defining or validating hypnotic trance as an explanatory concept. Our preference for the term highway hypnosis stems from its widely accepted use in the angle-saxon literature as a name for a well-known phenomenon. 111

1.1 Highway hypnosis Among those human factors detrimental



especially dangerous to narcoleptics (persons who suffer from unexpected attacks of sleepiness), in which case a critical blood level of sugar could trigger a sleep attack. The main difficulty with this hypothesis is that the common experience of drowsiness with most drivers would make almost everyone either a narcoleptic or a patient with functional hyperinsulinism. In this paper a more specific theory concerning the occurrence of drowsiness and inattention during driving is presented. This theory holds that some of our mental abilities are related to the activity of our oculomotor system (the neurological system responsible for the initiation of eye movements). Accordingly, the need for eye movement patterns specifically required in driving performance has such a bearing on our oculomotor system that several other psychological functions are influenced. 1.2 Attentive and intentive oculomotor control The oculomotor system can be envisaged as part of a feedback control system which enables positioning of our eyes toward those loci in the surroundings we want to see. Retinal information about the position of an image relative to the fovea (the retinal error signal) is generally thought to serve as the main feedback signal in this system. The role of proprioceptive signals (stemming from the eye musculature) appears to be of little or no relevance (see for a discussion Brindley and Merton [1960]; Fender and Nye [1961]; Merton [1964]; Festinger and Canon [1965]; Robinson [1968]; Weisfeld [1972]). This does not mean that information from other sources is not used in oculomotor control. Some kind of extra retinal information must be involved since otherwise eye movements would not be under voluntary control but follow the rules of simple reflexes. The oculomotor neurons in the brain, which emit the neural signals to the eye musculature, apparently receive both retinal and extra retina1 information. (For some elaborate discussions on the evidence of extra-retinal input on oculomotor control see Steinbath [1969], Young [1971], Wertheim [1974], Festinger et al. [1976]). Such an analysis of the oculomotor system has interesting implications: there is no logical necessity that retinal error information should always be fed back to the eye musculature. It is very well conceivable that, under certain circumstances, eye movements made during normal vision become-to a relatively large extent-governed by extra retinal information. When, for example, the eyes follow a visual signal moving in a highly predictable way, a certain degree of automatism will develop in the activity of the eye musculature. Some kind of internal motor program is likely to develop on the basis of an internal representation of the external movement. Such a motor program will reduce the need for retina1 error information as an input for the oculomotor neurons during oculomotor performance. At the same time vision will remain unaffected. We thus distinguish two components in oculomotor control. The attentive component refers to retina1 feedback and the intentive component refers to the intention to move our eyes. Henceforward oculomotor activity will be termed attentive whenever retinal information serves as the main input for the oculomotor neurons. Oculomotor activity will be called intentive, whenever it is governed mainly by information stemming from other (internal) sources. Figure 1 illustrates the difference between the attentive and the intentive component in

Intentwe component programs etc


I. Schematic representation

of the attentive and intentive components

in oculomotor functioning.

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental evidence for the role of eye movements


oculomotor control. Since the distinction between attentive and intentive oculomotor control refers to different inputs to the oculomotor neurons only, no relation with perception is necessarily implied. It is unlikely that a clear dichotomy in oculomotor control exists in such a way that it is either attentive or intentive exclusively. The degree to which retinal information serves as a monitoring principle determines the extent to which eye movements are controlled attentively 19741 the distinction between these two types of or intentively. Elsewhere [Wertheim, oculomotor control has been validated with evidence from the literature on visual system functioning. 1.3 Oculomotor control and psychological functions Although the distinction between attentive and intentive oculomotor control does not refer to the sensory process of visual perception itself, it may have consequences for the cognitive interpretation of what we see. For example, when the projection of a visual signal shifts over the retina, it may be perceived properly. However in order to identify it as due to a movement of something in our surroundings we have to compare mentally this retinal information with information on how we have moved our eyes. Otherwise we are unable to discriminate between retina1 image shifts which are due to external movements and those due to a movement of the eyes. In other words, the attentive component (retinal information) and the intentive component (extra retinal information about eye movements) are to be related at cognitive levels. When oculomotor control is highly intentive, the fact that only a small attentive component is present may impair our ability to perform this mental comparison, impairing our ability to detect real movement in our surroundings. This is an example of how the difference between attentive and intentive oculomotor control may interfere with our ability to interpret what we perceive. Phenomena other than movement detection may also be related to the distinction between attentive and intentive oculomotor control. Several characteristics of the task of car driving make it probable that, especially when the road situation is highly predictable (as is the case with highways), the intentive component in oculomotor control will increase at the expense of the attentive component: drivers have to disregard most of the information present in the external visual field because of its irrelevance to driving performance. The attentive component in oculomotor control may thus become dependent solely on information derived from the perception of very few visual signals. In addition these signals may become highly predictable in their movement pattern, especially during prolonged driving on long unchanging stretches of highway or during prolonged single file driving. A change in oculomotor system functioning from attentive to intentive control could influence several psychological functions which are crucial to the task of car driving. This paper is a report on research concerning the differential influence of attentive vs intentive oculomotor control on our capacity to react swiftly to visual signals, on our ability to use warning signals for speeding up such reaction processes, on our capacity to detect movements in the visual field, on our ability to recall what we perceived earlier and on our genera1 level of alertness as indicated by the amount of alpha activity in the EEG. When taken together, our experimental findings point towards a new and rather analytical explanation of the phenomenon of highway hypnosis.

2.1 General method of experimentation Measurement of the differential effect of the two types of oculomotor control necessitates a method which enables manipulation of the intentive and attentive components. The best strategy is to compare visual tracking conditions. This means that subjects (Ss) are required to follow with their eyes a visual signal (the target) moving over a screen. When the movementpattern of the target is very predictable, an internal motor program may develop and replace retinal information as the main principle in oculomotor control. Thus the intentive component will be enhanced at the expense of the attentive component. On the other hand, when the
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movement pattern of the target is unpredictable no internal motor program can develop and oculomotor control will remain attentive. In the predictable condition (PC) the target was made to move in a circular path. In the unpredictable condition (UC) the target also moved in a circular pattern, but in such a way that at unpredictable intervals (shorter than one cycle time) it switched between the paths of tangential, congruent circles (I Hz). Thus only directional predictability of target movement differed between the UC and the PC. Other movement characteristics, such as angular velocity, remained similar. In all but two of the experiments the target consisted of the disk-like projection of a light beam on a projection screen. The beam was moved by two mirrors, mounted on galvanometers, and was focussed by a lens. The coordinates of the target movements were provided by the output of a pure sine wave generator, synchronized with its inverse (Wo phase shifted). The coordinates in the UC were provided by the replay of an analog-7 tape, on which they had been prerecorded with the help of a computer. In the other two experiments the target consisted of a bright dot moving over an oscilloscope screen. Ss were positioned at a distance from the screen such that the maximum amplitude of a target sweep over the screen provided a visual angle of 7.5 in the PC and IS in the UC (the latter with a mean visual angle of 7.5). Sanders I19631showed that with visual angles between 0 and 15the occurrence of head movements is very unlikely while, in addition, there is little or no difference in eye movement characteristics. Visual signals to which Ss were required to react or which they had to memorize, were projected in the moving target. For this purpose a transparent plastic disk, on which letters and symbols were printed, was positioned between the lamp which originated the lightbeam, and the mirrors moving it. The disk could revolve stepwise (8 msec per step) in such a way that each symbol couid be presented exactly at the point where the lightbeam passed through. Thus symbols could be presented at fast rates right in the center of the target, solving the problem of how to maintain focussed perception of signals when the eyes move. In the experiments on movement detection a visual background pattern of nine randomiy positioned bright dots (spanning a visual angle of 20) was used. It was projected on the screen with a slide projector, a third mirror, mounted on another galvanometer, and a half silvered transparent mirror. Movements of this background pattern, which Ss were required to detect and to which they had to respond, were accomplished by connecting the third galvanometer to the output of another pure sine wave generator at a moment of maximum amplitude, for the period of one cycle (0.3 Hz). Thus the background pattern moved vertically, starting in upward direction (10 max ampi.) Signals presented in the target and background movements were triggered by the computer. Ss had to press a reaction-time push-button in response. Reaction-times (RTs) were measured in msec and recorded on teletype. In some of the experiments a.c. measures of horizontal eye movements were registered (3 set time constant) in order to measure eye tracking performance. For this purpose two Ag-AgC1 electrodes were positioned at the outer canthi of the eyes, their earth electrode being placed symmetrically to them at mid-frontal position. The signals derived from the eyes were compared continu~ly with electrical signals produced by the hardware, associated with horizontal target-position. The absolute difference (tracking error) was integrated, converted to a voltage, recorded on paper as a continuous tracing and detected on-line by a PDP-8E lab. computer, which monitored the whole experimental system. Calibration of eye movements was carried out by increasing or decreasing the amplitude of the signals derived from the eyes in such a way that error was minimal during a test-run in the PC, prior to the experiments. Eye tracking performance was operationalized as follows: Whenever tracking errors surpassed a pre-set norm (error threshold) performance was defined as off-target. Otherwise it was considered on-target. Thresholds could be set independency for the two conditions. In some experiments Ss received feedback about their tracking performance: when performance was off-target the light intensity of the target changed. With the help of a software clock the computer could measure the amount of time spent on- and off- target for each condition. In several experiments EEG alpha activity was measured with the help of bipolar measurement over the occipital-parietal areas of the scalp, using two Ag-AgCL EEG elec-

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental evidence for the role of eye movements


trodes, with an earth electrode attached at the left mastoid bone or symmetrically in between and above the other two. The amount of alpha activity present in the EEG trace was measured as follows: the EEG signals passed through an alpha band pass filter (8-13 Hz, 50dBloct.) on line. The resulting signals were recorded as a paper-tracing, converted to absolute values, and integrated on line with a condenser. Two such condensers were used. One measured the amount of alpha activity during the period of one condition, the other only during the periods of on-target eye tracking performance within one condition. The condenser charges were conveyed to the computer for continuous on-line measurement of the amount of alpha activity. At the end of each condition the condensers were reset at zero level. The amount of alpha activity was operationalized as mean alpha, indicating the computer reading of condenser charge, divided by the time over which measurements were taken. By subtracting the charge of the two condensers the amount of alpha during tracking error performance was measured. Thus the numerical values of mean alpha, presented in this report, refer to computer readings of alpha energy. The absolute values of alpha energy have no specific meaning; they refer to the unit of measurement used by the computer when reading the condenser charges on its analog input channels. Ss were seated in a dark, sound attenuated, experimental cabin, maintaining their head in a fixed position resting on the headrest of a dentists chair. They faced the oscilloscope screen at 30cm distance from the eyes or the large projection screen at 200 cm distance from the eyes. An intercom system provided communication with the experimenter. All projected visual signals were presented through a small window in the back of the cabin, overhead of the Ss. Most Ss were students, both male and female, of the University of Groningen. Some were students at several vocational colleges. Their ages ranged between 18 and 32 years and all had normal or corrected vision. Care was taken to select only Ss who were not on medication in order to eliminate the risk that this might somehow influence psychological performance or physiological measurements. None of the Ss were familiar with the hypotheses. When interested, they were given a detailed explanation after completion of the experiments. They were paid for their cooperation. All data concerning alpha activity and reaction times were interpreted statistically in terms of analyses of variances. 2.2 Experiments on the influence of oculomotor
signal on RT control on RT and on the influence of a warning

2.2.1 Experiment I
Introduction. This experiment was designed to investigate whether RT to a visual signal, presented in the moving target during attentive oculomotor control, differs from RT to the same signal presented during intentive oculomotor control. A second purpose was to investigate the possibility that oculomotor control interferes with the effect of warning signals on RT. When a warning signal precedes a critical signal (the stimulus to which a reaction is required) the duration of the interval between the warning signal and the critical signal, the foreperiod (FP), influences RT. When FPs are always of the same duration RTs are shorter than when FP-duration varies (even when mean FP-duration is the same as with constant FPs). This so called foreperiod effect is usually ascribed to the greater ease with which the critical signal is anticipated with constant FPs. Presumably, some degree of mental or motor readiness can be built up so as to reach an optima1 level at about the expected arrival of the critical signal. With variable FPs the arrival of the critical signal cannot be anticipated with such precision, which results in larger reaction times. These phenomena are related to timing and anticipation and thus are of great relevance to car driving. For example the brake lights of a car driving in front of us warn us to anticipate a change in driving speed of that car, to which we have to react. Therefore it is important to investigate whether intentive or attentive oculomotor activity influences the foreperiod effect. Method. A black asterisk, presented in the moving target, served as a warning signal and remained visible until displaced by the letter Z, which served as the critical signal. The foreperiod effect was measured in both the PC and UC and in addition in a control condition, in which the target remained stationary.

FPs were either constant (CFP) or variable (VFP). CFP duration was 1.5 set VFPs were of



0.5, 1, 1.5, 2 and 2.5 set duration, presented in random order. Thus mean VFP duration was also 1.5 sec. The signals were presented in three series of ten blocks. A block consisted of about 20 stimuli. Blocks with CFPs alternated with blocks in which VFPs were presented. Twelve Ss were assigned to two experimental groups of equal size. One group received the PC during the first ten blocks and the UC during the last ten blocks; the other group vice versa. The middle 10 blocks consisted of the control condition, in which the target did not move. Between blocks short pauses were given. Ss were trained prior to the experiment (on the control condition) with both CFPs and VFPs until the variability of their reaction times was satisfactorily reduced (to the level where the standard deviation reached a level between 10 and 20% of median RT). Results. As illustrated in Fig. 2, RTs were shorter in the PC than in the UC. In addition, the foreperiod effect was clearly observed: RTs with VFPs were longer than those with CFPs. Interestingly, the magnitude of this difference was larger in the UC than in the PC or in the control condition. These findings were all statistically significant (P cO.01). Although Fig. 2 suggests that RTs in the control condition are smaller than RTs in the PC this difference has no statistical significance.

225 t


Fig. 2. RT and the foreperiod effect as a function of eye-trackmg condition (Exp. I). 04, Constant foreperiods; O---O, variable foreperiods; C, control condition; PC, predictable eye-tracking; UC, unpredictable eye-tracking. Discussion. The data from this experiment indicate that the type of oculomotor control influences both the speed with which we are able to react to a visual signal and our capacity to use warning signals as an aid to speed up such reactions. As compared to attentive oculomotor control we gain from intentive oculomotor control in terms of the general level of our reaction times, but we lose in terms of the effective use we can make of warning signals. Reactions are faster when the eyes move intentively but consistent warning periods are more effective when oculomotor control is attentive. An alternative explanation for these findings could be that it is not the type of oculomotor control, but the position of the projection of the visual signals on the retina, which influences RT. When we look straight at a signal we perceive it foveally and RT might be shorter than when we do not focus the signals directly. Signals which have been presented during off-target eye tracking performance may be associated with longer RTs. Therefore the experiment was replicated with the additional measurement of eye tracking performance.

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental 2.2.2

evidence for the role of eye movements


Experiment II Introduction. If the effects found in the former experiments were due to the position of signal projections on the retina relative to the fovea, we should categorize RTs according to tracking performance present at the moment of stimulus presentation. There are two types of tracking performance: on- and off-target, corresponding to fovea1 and parafoveal perception. There are also two types of signals: warning signals and critical signals. Thus four types of RTs can be defined. If the interaction between foreperiod effect and oculomotor control is due to fovea1 or parafoveal perception of one or both of the signals, it is expected that with all Ss at least one of the four types of RT will consistently fail to show the interaction. Method. Six Ss participated. The general method was the same as in the former experiment, with the exception that the order of presentation of the eye tracking conditions was balanced among Ss. Eye movements were measured. The computer labelled each RT according to the retinal position of the warning- and critical signals associated with it. Results. Figure 3 shows that the same configuration of data as in the former experiment was obtained. During the UC RTs were longer than during the other two conditions. Again the foreperiod effect was larger in the UC as compared to the PC and control condition. As can be seen from Fig. 4 none of the four types of RT showed any consistent absence of this phenomenon. Statistically the effects were independent of type of RT. Discussion. The data from this experiment indicate that it is not retinal position of the projection of a signal on the retina which determines RT, but type of oculomotor control. We have assumed that oculomotor control is more intentive when driving on highways as compared to secondary roads where the visual scene is less predictable. The data from these
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Fig. 3. RT and the foreperiod effect as a function of eye-tracking condition (Exp. II). O-_-O, foreperiods; O---O, variable foreperiods; C, control condition; PC, predictable eye-tracking UV, unpredictable eye-tracking condition.

Fig. 4. RT and the foreperiod effect as a function of eye-tracking condition and retinal position of the stimulus image (Exp. II). O--O, Constant foreperiods; O---O, variable foreperiods; C, control condotion; PC, predictable eye-tracking condition; UC, unpredictable eye-tracking condition; W, warning signal; S, critical signal.



experiments indicate, that on highways we may be able to react faster than on secondary roads. On the other hand warning signals associated with short consistent warning periods (such as the brakelights of the car in front) may have less effect on our reactions to a critical signal (such as a decrease in velocity of the car in front) on highways than on secondary roads with less predictable visual surroundings. 2.3 An experiment on oculomotor control, RT and movement detection

2.3.1 Experiment III Introduction. The detection of motion in our visual surroundings depends on our ability to distinguish between shifts of retinal images which are due to movements of the eyes and shifts which result from real movements in the visual field. Somehow retinal information and information about oculomotor activity must be compared. The outcome of this mental operation is crucial to a valid interpretation of motion is visual perception (e.g. Haber [1970], Dichganz and Bizzi [1972]: Haber and Hersherson [1973], Carette and Friedman [1975]). As stated earlier, it is likely that during intentive oculomotor control, when retinal information is not fed back to the eye musculature, the ability to perform this mental operation is impaired. Under such circumstances the ability to perceive movement is probably impaired, compared to circumstances in which oculomotor control is predominantly attentive. This hypothesis can be verified by comparing movement detection in the PC with the UC. Method. Impaired movement detection will only occur when the retinal shifts induced by external movements do not differ much from those which can be expected to result from eye movements. A sudden retinal shift will easily be recognized as due to external movement when the eyes are moving smoothly (as is the case in our eye-tracking tasks). This is why a smooth sinusoidal movement of a visual background pattern (as described in Section 2.1) was used. The degree to which intentive oculomotor control impairs movement detection can be measured by comparing movement detection time (MDT) in the PC with the UC. In order to verify whether this additional task requirement interferes with other aspects of the task, Ss were again required to react also to visual signals presented in the moving target. This RT task also insured the maintainance of eye-tracking performance. Thus it was expected that although MDT would be longer in the PC than in the UC, RT in the PC would again be shorter than in the UC. Twelve Ss participated. They faced a very large screen in order to decrease chances that the screen borders were too close to the background dot pattern as to provide extra cues on its movement. Ss were instructed to press the reaction button upon noticing an asterisk and also whenever they thought the background pattern moved in vertical direction. Obviously it was to be insured that Ss would not divert their gaze from the target towards the background in order to verify whether the dots moved or not. Such a diversion implies eye movements directed by perception and thus attentive oculomotor control. Therefore a pay-off system was used which highly motivated Ss to maintain their eyes focussed on the moving target. Short RTs (faster than mean RT during training) were financially rewarded. Those over 500 msec were punished by a financial loss. Ss were told that MDTs were of little importance and were only required in order to increase task load. Only one PC and one UC were given, each of which lasted for eight minutes, during which approximately 75 RTs and 30 MDTs were measured. Background movements and signals in the target to which a reaction was required were never presented in concurrence. After each experiment a control condition was included in which Ss were instructed to react to background movements in the absence of a target. Thus a measure was obtained of MDT when attention was focussed on the background. In addition, eye movements were recorded. If the Ss were to change their gaze from the target towards the background, this would become visible in the eye movement record as a very fast saccadic eye movement. Thus it was possible to verify, during the experiment, whether the eye-tracking instructions were followed properly. Results. As can be seen from Fig. 5 once again RT was shorter in the PC than in the UC. MDT was, as expected, shorter in the UC than in the PC. These effects were statistically significant (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05 respectively). It should be mentioned that very few omissions occurred and no significant differences in their

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental evidence for the role of eye movements
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Fig. 5. RT towards signals presented in the moving target (RT) and towards movements of the background (MDT) as a function of eye-tracking condition (Exp. III). O---O, RT; O---O, MDT; PC, predictable eye-tracking condition; UC, unpredictable eye-tracking condition. number between the UC and the PC were observed for either RT or MDT. In addition Ss appeared not to have diverted their attention from the target towards the random dot pattern. This assumption is supported by the fact that MDT in the control condition was much faster (k750msec) than in the experimental conditions and that only very few saccades were observed in the eye movement recordings. Discussion. The data from this experiment rather strongly support the notion that the type of oculomotor control influences our ability to detect movement in our visual surroundings. This has an important bearing on the task of car driving. Obviously, when driving in very predictable surroundings, such as on highways, we have more difficulty in detecting an unexpected movement than when the road situation is less predictable. This may imply impaired preception of movement characteristics (such as velocity changes of other traIIic vehicles). It could also explain why sometimes a road curve is not noticed and why drivers sometimes fail to correct a slowly developing steering bias. In these instances aspects of the visual field move relative to the drivers visual gaze, but these movements fail to be noticed.

2.4 Experiments on the relation between oculomotor


control and some aspects of the memory

2.4.1 Experiment IV
Introduction. The investigation of differential influences of attentive and intentive oculomotor control on information processing should include measures indicating memory processes. In trafhc situations, the ability to recall information presented shortly before it is needed, is crucial. For example, when approaching changes in a road situation (such as crossings or dangerous curves) we have to remember all related road signs we may have passed just previously. This short term aspect of our memory system can be measured by presenting a number of symbols (letters, words) sequentially, which then have to be recalled. Man has only a limited capacity for recall. The total number of items recalled correctly from a list usually lies between five and nine. When the number of items recalled is plotted against the serial position of each item in its list, the resulting graph, known as the serial position curve (SPC), has the form of an U. The first and last items of a list are usually recalled better than



those presented in the middle. The following experiments were carried out in order to verify whether aspects of the SPC are influenced by type of oculomotor control. Method. Twenty-four Ss participated. They were presented with twelve lists each. A list consisted of twelve five-letter words (Dutch nouns). The letters composing a word were projected sequentially in the moving target. Each letter was presented for one second, after which during half a second no symbol was projected. In between words a small asterisk was shown. In order to guard against the danger that this method of sequential letter presentationand not oculomotor control-would influence aspects of the SPC, a control condition was included in which the target remained stationary. Thus effects exclusively due to oculomotor control must appear when comparing the SPC in both the PC and the UC with the control condition. During each of the three eye-tracking conditions four lists were presented. When a list was completed the target was colored red, which indicated to the Ss that he had to report verbally all items he recalled. During recall eye-tracking was not required. Results. All words recalled appeared to have been read correctly. The procedure of sequential letter presentation thus did not influence word perception. The SPC in the control condition does not differ from those described in the literature (e.g. Klings and Riggs [1972]). As can be seen in Fig. 6, no clear differences occurred between the three SPCs.

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Fig. 6. Serial position Predictable eye-tracking

curve of recall as a function of eye-tracking condition (Exp. IV). O-_-O, condition; O---O. unpredictable eye-tracking condition; O--O, control condition.

Discussion. The results show that there seem to be no differential effects of attentive and intentive oculomotor control on recall. The data should however not be considered conclusive. In each eye-tracking condition only four lists were presented. Thus when a Ss misses one item the result is a 20% loss of recall in that serial position. Therefore a second experiment was carried out using more lists in each eye-tracking condition. 2.42 Experiment V Method. Twelve Ss participated, none of which had participated in the previous experiment. They were presented with ten lists in each eye-tracking condition. The rest of the procedure was the same as in experiment IV. Results. As illustrated by Fig. 7, the data showed the same structure as in experiment IV. No differences between the three SPCs were observed. Discussion. Although at first glance the results of the two memory experiments show that the type of oculomotor control is not related to the SPC, this finding should be interpreted with some reservation. The task of memorization has two distinct phases: the acquisition of information into our memory system and its recall at a later stage. The effects of eye movements on the mechanism of recall have, strictly speaking, not been measured, since Ss were only required to track the target with their eyes during the phase of information

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental

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Fig. 7. Serial position curve of recall as a function of eye-tracking condition (Exp. V). o--O, Predictable eye-tracking condition; O---O, unpredictable eye-trackmg condition; O----O, control condition.

acquisition. Thus the only conclusion we may draw is that oculomotor control is not reiated to the phase of information acquisition in memory. Whether recall itself is related to ocuIomotor control remains to be investigated. 2.5 Experiments on the relation between oculomotor
control and occipital alpha activity

2.5.1 Experiment VI introduction. One of the methods to fight highway hypnosis is to deliberately maintain

alertness [Williams, 19631.Obviously lowered alertness is one of the phenomena constituting the syndrome of highway hypnosis. Therefore it should be investigated whether oculomotor control also relates to alertness. One of the methods to investigate whether oculomotor control influences alertness is to correlate oculomotor control with physiologic~ measures which are generally understood to be associated with alertness or arousal and which, in addition, are known to be influenced by activities of the visual system. The most prominent among these measures is the alpha activity of the EEG (8-12 Hz, 30-80 pV) which can be measured over the visual centers of the brain (occipital-parietal). Alpha activity is characteristically present during cfosure of the eyes. Opening of the eyes usually attenuates alpha activity, which means that its amplitude is generally lower than with closed eyes, while sometimes it disappears completely. It has been proposed, that during (visual) attention open-eye alpha activity is even more attenuated but that during a state of mental relaxation, physiological inactivity, or during loss of vigilance its amplitude is somewhat higher (e.g. Walter [1959]; Morel1 (19661; Matousek et al. [1969]; Editorial [1971]; Shagass [19723;Gale et al. [1971]; Mackie [19773). In the folIowing experiments it will be investigated whether the type of ocuIomotor control has any relation to the amount of alpha activity in the EEG. Method. During eye-tracking performance in the UC it is not possible that oculomotor activity is monitored by other than retinal information as long as performance is on-target. On the other hand during on-target performance in the PC some degree of automatism is likely to develop in oculomotor control. Thus oculomotor control during on-target performance in the UC wit1be more attentive, while in the PC it may become more intentive. In this experiment we therefore compared the amount of alpha activity between the UC and the PC during periods of on-target eye-tracking performance. The influence of feedback about eye-tracking performance was also measured in this experiment. It was reasoned that when Ss are alerted to off-target performance (by an increase of target brightness) the detection of tracking errors would be facilitated. Thus the difference between the UC and the PC (in terms of attentive versus intentive ocuIomotor control) might be enhanced.





Twenty Ss were assigned to two experimental groups of equal size. Each group received two experimental runs, one with and one without feedback, in different order of presentation. The target was a bright spot moving over an oscilloscope screen, 30 cm in front of the eyes. An experimental run consisted of twenty alternating one minute PCs and UCs (trials). In between runs a rest period was allowed. This procedure was chosen to ensure that any changes in alpha activity which might result from the length of the experimental sessions (as a resutt of fatigues woutd affect the PC and the UC equally, thus making comparisons between them independent of such gradual baseline changes. Eye movements were measured, as was the amount of alpha activity in the EEG during on-target eye-tracking performance. In each trial mean alpha was defined as the amount of alpha activity divided by the corresponding time on-target. Jesuits. Figure 8 illustrates that there was a (statistically significant, p < 0.01) difference in the amount of alpha activity during on-target performance between the PC and the UC. Although there was a slight effect of feedback in the expected direction (the difference being larger with than without feedback), this was statistically not significant. Most alpha activity was observed in the PC.


Fig. 8. Occipital alpha energy in the EEG as a function of eye-tracking condition during on-target Predictable eye-tracking condition; O--O, unpredicteye-tracking performance (Exp. VI). c----O, able eye-tracking condition.

Discussion. The data from this experiment indicate that the amount of alpha activity in the EEG is related to the type of oculomotor control: during intentive oculomotor control more alpha activity is present than during attentive oculomotor control. If alpha activity is related to a state of mental relaxation then obviously intentive oculomotor control implies a more relaxed state of mind than attentive oculomotor control. This is a very important suggestion because it means that our general level of alertness may depend on the way we move our eyes. 2.5.2 Experiment VII inr~o~uctio~. A further test on whether attentive oculomotor control is associated with an attenuation of alpha activity, can be provided when off-target alpha is compared to on-target alpha. The point is that during the correction of eye-tracking errors retinal information has to be used. Thus, when Ss are made aware of eye-tracking errors and are instructed to immediately reduce them, the attentive component in oculomotor control is enhanced when corrections are made. This implies more attentive oculomotor control during off-target as compared to on-target performance, especially in the PC (in the UC during on-target performance oculomotor control is already largely attentive). The following experiment was carried out in order to verify whether the amount of alpha activity also decreases during off-target as compared to on-target eye-tracking performance. Method. Eight Ss participated. They received only one run of twenty trials and were given

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental evidence for the role of eye movements


feedback about their performance on all trials. Apart from the fact that alpha activity was also measured during off-target performance the rest of the procedure was the same as in the former experiment. Results. As illustrated by Fig. 9, mean amount of alpha activity was lower during off-target as compared to on-target tracking (statistically significant at p < 0.02). Again it was found that during on-target tracking the amount of alpha activity in the PC was higher than in the UC.

Fig. 9. Occipital alpha energy in the EEG as a function of eye-tracking performance (Exp. VII). O--_-O, Predictable eye-tracking conditron on-target; t--O, predictable eye-tracking condttion off-target; O---Z, unpredictable eye-tracking condition on-target; O---O, unpredictable eye-tracking condition off-target.

Discussion. The data from the last two experiments indicate that during intentive oculomotar control more alpha activity is present in the EEG than when oculomotor control is attentive. It is however possible that our method of measurement has influenced the findings. Feedback consisted of a change in brightness of the target. It was effected by a small noisy electromotor attached to the brightness control of the oscilloscope. This auditory stimulation may have attenuated alpha activity. In addition increased brightness of the target-during off-target performance-could have attenuated alpha activity too [Barry and Beh, 19721.The effort to maintain eye accomodation during the whole period of the experimental task may also have attenuated alpha activity [Mulholland and Peper, 19711.This is most likely to have occurred in the UC; it is less imperative to focus on the target all the time when, as in the PC, the eyes move more or less automatically. For these reasons it was necessary to repeat the latter experiment to see whether the same data can be observed using a method without these methodological difficulties. 2.5.3 Experiment VIII Method. In order to replicate experiment VII without its methodological flaws the mirror system was used again. Thus the distance between the target and the eyes was increased to 200 cm, which implies no serious accomodative effort of the eyes when focussing on the target. Error feedback was provided by reducing the brightness of the lamp in the mirror system. which itself was placed outside the experimental cabin. If the small amount of alpha activity during off-target performance was due to the increase of target brightness in experiment VII, now the results should be reversed.t The experimental procedure was the same as in experiment VII, apart from the fact that ten Ss participated.
tBrightness fluctuations as such, which occur during error performance, could also account for attenuation of alpha activity. However there is no way to check this possibility. In the PC errors may be due to some degree of variability in the mtemai motor program which provides the input for intentive oculomotor activity. If so, errors may well appear and disappear during continuous intentive oculomotor control. Thus we can only insure attentive oculomotor control during error performance by providing feedback.




Fig IO. Occipital alpha energy in the EEG as a function of eye-tracking performance (Exp VIII). V-0. Predictable eye-tracking condition on-target; t--O. predictable eye-trackmg condition off-target: O---i), unpredictable eye-tracking condition on-target; O---O, unpredictable eye-tracking condition off-target.

Results. As shown in Fig. 10, the data from this experiment are very much in line with those of the former two experiments. Alpha activity during on-target performance is less attenuated than alpha activity during off-target performance. This difference is larger in the PC than in the UC. These findings were statistically significant @ < 0.01) and thus indicate that the results from the prior two experiments cannot be considered artefactual. Discussion. The results from the three experiments on alpha activity and oculomotor control have a rather important bearing on our understanding of the concept of highway hypnosis. When intentive oculomotor control increases, the amount of alpha activity in the EEG also increases. This may indicate that the general level of alertness is also reduced. If the process continues long enough, a driver might thus slowly become drowsy and even doze off into short lapses of a sleeplike state. This explains why it is difficult to fight fits of drowsiness when they occur. The point is, that we apparently influence our level of alertness at least to some extent by the way we move our eyes, and in an involuntary manner. There is one curious aspect in our data so far: the data on alpha activity indicate that during intentive oculomotor control the general level of alertness decreases, but in some of the experiments mentioned earlier it was shown that, at the same time, reactions to visual signals become faster. It is possible that when Ss have to perform the reaction time task, they are alerted to such an extent that the difference in alpha activity between the PC and the UC is eliminated. In other words, it is possible that intentive oculomotor control is only associated with a relaxed state of mind when no additional task requirements exist. The following experiment was designed to investigate into this question.

2.5.4 Experiment IX Introduction. It is possible that alertness, as measured by alpha energy, does not interfere with our ability to react quickly to visual signals. However it is very difficult to validate this suggestion because from the psychophysiological literature it has become clear that physiological measures of states of awareness or arousal do not correlate with performance measures. The current view is that the behaviorally and physiologically defined concepts of alertness attention and arousal are not entirely congruent (see for some discussions Posner [1975]. Kahneman 119731, Gale [1977]). Most investigators have failed to observe a clear relationship between alpha and RT. This does not necessarily invalidate alpha as a measure of alertness [Gale, 19771. A few studies have shown small but significant correlations between RT and measures of alpha activity other than energy (see for some discussions Surwillo [1969, 19751, Wertheim [1974], Gaillard [1977], Gale [1977]). We have shown in different experiments that the oculomotor control system influences both

Explaining highway hypnosis: experimental evidence for the role of eye movements


alpha energy in the EEG and RT to visual signals. Thus replicating these findings in one experiment, in which both alpha energy and RT are measured concurrently, may help clarify the existing theoretical confusion. There are three possible outcomes for such an experiment. First, oculomotor control may prove to have an independent influence on alpha and RT. In this case we should observe a correlation between alpha and RT between the PC and the UC but not within each of the conditions. Secondly, the oculomotor control system may be related to one system of alertness which relates to alpha energy and also influences RT. If so we should observe a correlation between alpha energy and RT both within and between the two tracking conditions. Finally, the additional effort required to perform the RT task may alert the Ss to such an extent that the differences in alpha energy are eliminated. In that case we should observe a replication of the RT differences between the PC and the UC but no evidence of differences in alpha energy (if any alpha at all is to be observed). Method. Since the additional effort required by the RT task is likely to reduce somewhat the general amount of alpha activity in the EEG, little alpha activity was expected and probably only during on-target performance. Therefore alpha activity had to be measured with greater precision than before. In addition, alpha, measured during on-target performance, cannot be meaningfully related to RTs following signals presented during off-target performance. Thus signals were presented only during on-target eye-tracking performance. Stimuli consisted of black asterisks, presented in the moving target at variable intervals between 4 and 6 set, but only when performance was on-target. Care was taken to prevent too large a difference between the number of signals presented during the PC as compared to the UC, since in the PC much more time was spent on-target. Therefore in the PC intersignal intervals were slightly longer than in the UC. This method provided roughly equal numbers of RTs in both conditions (about 200 during each experiment). An experiment consisted of twenty alternating PC and UC trials of 1.5 min duration, separated by 45 set pauses. In order not to contaminate the EEG trace with motor artefacts associated with the manual reaction, no alpha was measured from the moment of signal presentation to one second after the manual response. In order to determine whether alpha activity was present or not at a moment of signal presentation, an alpha amplitude filter was introduced, which filtered out all EEG activity-leaving the alpha band pass filter-of amplitudes under 20% of closed-eye alpha activity (determined beforehand). By connecting a relay to the output of this amplitude filter, it was possible for the computer to label RTs according to whether alpha activity was present or absent at the moment of signal presentation. Since only very little alpha activity was expected, the EEG was amplified rather strongly. However, band pass filters do not actually filter out irrelevant frequencies but depress their amplitudes. Strong amplification of the EEG thus increases the risk that irrelevant frequencies will pass the band pass filter. For this reason visual inspection of the unfiltered EEG trace was added to the hard-ware identification of alpha activity. After each experiment a number of staff members of the laboratory judged whether alpha activity, present in the polygraph tracing of the filtered EEG, was parallelled by visually recognizable alpha activity in the unfiltered EEG tracing. Thus two groups, of five Ss each, were obtained. Characteristic sample tracings of both groups are provided in Figs. 11 and 12. Ss in group I showed clear evidence of alpha activity; those in group II showed little or no alpha activity. It was reasoned that any relationship between oculomotor control and alpha activity and between oculomotor control and RT, and any possible relation between alpha activity and RT should be most prominent in group I. Results. AS illustrated by Fig. 13, in group I alpha activity measured during on-target performance was much more present during the PC than during the UC. In group II this difference was more or less absent. We can thus conclude that the additional visual inspection of the EEG traces has added to the identification of alpha activity. The effects were statistically significant at p < 0.01. As indicated in Fig. 14, RTs (to signals concurrent with alpha activity) were shorter in the PC than the UC. Figure 15 shows in addition, that within conditions there is no difference between RTs following signals associated with alpha activity and those following signals presented in the absence of alpha activity (the differences which appear in Fig. 15 in the graph of group II are statistically not significant). Discussion. The data from this experiment are rather convincing replications of those from the other experiments in which EEG and RT measurements were taken independently. Once




Fig. 11.


Fig. I I. Sample tracing of a subject from group I (much alpha). A, Unfiltered EEG; B, alpha activity filtered from the EEG; C, stimulus marker (downward deflection= stimulus presentation; upward deflection = response): D, horizontal eye-movements; E, tracking error; F, time marker (Sec.). Fig. 12. Sample tracing of a subject from group II (little alpha). For interpretation of the tracings see


Fig. 13. Occipital alpha energy in the EEG during on-target eye-tracking performance, as a function of Predictable eye-tracking condition Group I; O---O, eye-tracking condition (Exp. IX). o----O, unpredictable eye-tracking condition Group I; O--O, predictable eye-tracking condition Group II. O---O, unpredictable eye-tracking condition Group II.

again it was shown that intentive oculomotor activity is associated with more alpha activity than attentive oculomotor control. In addition reaction times are shown again to be shortest during intentive oculomotor control. However, since no evidence of any relation between the absence or presence of alpha activity and RT was observed within conditions, we feel justified to conclude that the type of oculomotor control influences alpha activity and RT independently. This finding is important to our understanding of the phenomenon of highway hypnosis: intentive oculomotor control may reduce our general level of alertness but enhances at the same time our capacity to react swiftly to visual signals. This paradoxical finding explains why introspectively we may have great difficulties in detecting our own state of drowsiness when driving on highways.

The experimental findings from the research mentioned in this paper justify a new interpretation of the phenomenon of highway hypnosis. The distinction between attentive and


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Explaining highway l\




for the role of eye movements








Fig. 14.


1 r300Lk-h--JL
group I group II Fig. 15.

Fig. 14. Occipital alpha energy in the EEG (during on-target eye-tracking performance) and RT (to stimuli presented when alpha was present m the EEG) as a function of eye-tracking condrtion. O---O, Group I: C--O. Group II; PC. predictable eye-tracking condition; UC, unpredictable eye-tracking condition. Fig. 15. RT to signals presented in the presence or absence of occipital alpha in the EEG as a functron of eye-tracking condition. O--O, Alpha present; O--O, no alpha present; PC, predictable eye-tracking condition; UC, unpredictable eye-tracking condition.

intentive oculomotor control is central to this new understanding. When a certain degree of automatism develops in the activity of the eye musculature and oculomotor control becomes intentive, this has implications for several psychological faculties. In other words, a number of our psychological functions are affected by the way we move our eyes. In any task where specific eye movements are required to follow very predictable movements in the visual environment, these psychological phenomena are likely to develop during the performance. One such a task is car driving, in which case we have to monitor visually all movements of other traffic vehicles as well as changes in the road situation itself. The more predictable these movements and changes, the more oculomotor control becomes intentive. Thus it is obvious that on highly predictable stretches of roads and on highways, these dangers exist to a greater extent than in the characteristically less predictable visual conditions of secondary roads. In our research some psychological functions have been investigated under conditions favoring intentive or attentive oculomotor control. It was shown that intentive oculomotor control enables fast reactions but impairs our ability to use warning signals or to detect movements. In addition it appears that intentive oculomotor control is associated with a certain degree of mental relaxation or lowered alertness. Taken together, these phenomena draw a picture of what actually constitutes highway hypnosis: a rigid cognitive set develops creating a
subjective notion of unchanging visual surroundings. This notion cannot be validated by our perceptual system, because changes in the movement pattern of the visual field-such as occur

during road curves, slowly developing steering bias or velocity changes of other cars-remain undetected. In addition a general decrease of alertness occurs. Interestingly, additional support for this view of highway hypnosis becomes from a number of informal interviews with professional drivers, conducted by the author. It appeared that highway hypnosis is widely recognized and often accepted as a professional risk. Most of the drivers said that they fight drowsiness by changing their head position relative to the visual field. A common method is to look over the rim of their spectacles or to maintain for some time a tilted head position. Such methods fit surprisingly well with our explanation of highway hypnosis. When head position is changed the movement pattern of the eye musculature must change too, and old internal motor programs cannot any more serve as input for the oculomotor neurons. The result is enhancement of the attentive component in oculomotor control. Another method often heard is to increase or to change continuously the velocity of the vehicle. This method also fits our views, because changing or increasing velocity decreases the degree of



predictability of the road : situation, which in turn enhances the attentive component in oculomotor control. The main difference between this understanding of highway hypnosis and the more traditional views is, that not monotony but predictability of the road: situation is crucial to its development. Monotony is a concept which refers to the complexity, to the amount of information present in our surroundings. It refers to the degree of environmental stimulation. In our view, highway hypnosis is not induced by the degree of monotony but by the degree to which those aspects in the visual field, which have to be looked at, move (relative to the observer) in a predictable pattern. A very monotonous road situation does not necessarily imply a very predictable one, as for example when driving in heavy fog. In that situation it is most unlikely that highway hypnosis develops. Our concept of highway hypnosis explains why the general level of fatigue is not necessarily related to it, even though it may sometimes have a facilitatory effect on its development. The point here is that there are some indicationsl that specific brain mechanisms cannot be activated continuously. After long periods of activity some rest is needed for the recovery of the specific mechanisms. This could be the case with the neural mechanisms responsible for relaying retinal information to the oculomotor neurons in the brain; for attentive oculomotor control. If so, it is likely that the attentive component in oculomotor control cannot be maintained continuously over long periods of time, especially not when its neurological system has been activated for some time prior to the driving situation. This is why fatigue may facilitate the development of intentive oculomotor control, and thus of highway hypnosis. Obviously the human brain is not adequately equipped to meet all the specific deminds of driving on highways. Therefore it is difficult to suggest remedies apart from reducing the degree of predictability of road situations. Such action would however increase other kinds of risks such as mechanical break downs. side-slippings, etc. The only possibility to reduce the dangers of highway hypnosis seems to lie in driver education. Drivers should learn to recognize the signs of highway hypnosis, such as misjudgement of velocities, crossing of road border-lines, late responses to the brake lights of a car in front, and probably also yawning. Under such circumstances it may be beneficial to rest for a short period and close the eyes for a while, in order to enable the neuro-logical system responsible for attentive oculomotor control to relax and recover. It is a common experience of professional drivers, that a short nap often stops the build up of drowsiness for long periods afterwards. Although the research presented in this paper indicates that oculomotor activity is related to some psychological functions, it is by no means exhaustive. Much more research is needed to determine what other functions are influenced and why. In addition the interfering effects of alcohol, drugs and much-used medicines on oculomotor control (if any) should be investigated. Such a research effort is important to our understanding of the risks involved in many tasks in which specific eye movements are required. In this context it is an urgent necessity to carry research out of the laboratory into more complex and more realistic (simulated) field conditions.
Acknomledgements--This paper IS part of a Ph.D. chssertation [Wertheim, 19771, grant for which was provided by the a Praeventiefonds. The stimulating criticism of .I. A. Michon. the technical assistance of J. Clots. who designed and developed the apparatus and the enthusiastic assistance of K. Brookhuis and T. Gaasbeek during experimentation, are gratefully acknowledged. REFERENCES Barry R. J. and Beh H. C., Desynchromzation of the alpha rhythm of the EEG as a function of intensity of visual stimulation. Psychon. Sci. X$5), 241-242, 1972. Brindly G. S. and Merton P. A., The absence of positlon sense in the human eye. J. Physiol. 153. 127-130.1960. Carterette E. C. and Friedman M. P. (Eds), Handbook of Perception, Vol. V, Seeing. Academic Press, New York, 1975 Crawford A., Fatigue and dnving. Ergonomics 4, 143-154, l%l. Dichganz J. and Bizzi E. (Eds), Cerebral control of eye movements and motion perception. Bibliotheca Opthalmologica No. 82. S. Karger, Basel, 1972. Editorial. Alpha rhythm of the electroencephalogram. Lancet I, 983-984, 1970. Fender D. W. and Nye P. W., An investigation of the mechanisms of eye movement control. Kybemetik 2, 81-88, l%l. Festinger L. and Canon L. K., Information about spatial location based on knowledge about efference. Psycho/. Rev. 72(5), 373-384. 1%5. tJ. Horne, undated manuscript; part of a Ph.D. dissertation.

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