Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Williams, C. Carrick

Committee Member

Swan II, Edward J.

Committee Member

McFadyen, Gary

Committee Member

Giesen, Martin J.

Committee Member

Strawderman, Lesley

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Cognitive Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Psychology


Use of cellular phones while driving, and safety implications thereof, has captured public and scientific interest. Previous research has shown that driver reactions and attention are impacted by cellular phone use. Generally, previous research studies have not focused on how visual attention and driver performance may interact. Strayer and colleagues found lower recognition for items present in the driving environment when drivers were using a cellular phone than when not using the phone; however, the tested items were not directly relevant to driving. Relevance to driving may have an impact on attention allocation. The current project used a mediumidelity driving simulator to extend previous research in two ways: 1) how attention is allocated across driving-relevant and -irrelevant items in the environment was investigated, and 2) driving performance measures and eye movement measures were considered together rather than in isolation to better illustrate the impact of cellular phone distraction on driver behavior. Results from driving performance measures replicated previous findings that vehicle control is negatively impacted by driver distraction. Interestingly, there were no interactions of relevance and distraction found, suggesting that participants responded to potential hazards similarly in driving-only and distraction conditions. In contrast to previous research, eye movement patterns (primarily measured by number of gazes) were impacted by distraction. Gaze patterns differed across relevance levels, with hazards receiving the most gazes, and signs receiving the fewest. The relative size of the critical items may have impacted gaze probability in this relatively undemanding driving environment. In contrast to the driving performance measures, the eye movement measures did show an interaction between distraction and relevance; thus, eye movements may be a more direct and more sensitive measure of driver attention. Recognition memory results were consistently near chance performance levels and did not reflect the patterns found in the eye movement or driving performance measures.