It has been said that taking a left hand turn at busy intersections actually require a lot more brain power than right hand turns or any other manoeuvres, according to research that has been carried out at a hospital in Toronto.
The extra strain on the brain, along with other distractions like talking on a hands free phone may be the explanation for why some of the most serious car crashes actually happen during these turns. The research time, which was made up mainly of neuroscientists from the Toronto hospital St Michael’s have conducted these studies using a virtual reality driving simulator that has been built into an MRI machine. The equipment took around a year and a half to engineer.
Blood flow in the brain was measured during a left hand turn
The machine can measure the change in blood flow in the brain of a subject and therefore determine which areas see the most demand mentally during particular activities, in this instance simulated city drive. The researchers, along with Toronto’s Sunnybrook health Sciences Centre put 16 volunteers, right handed men and women from ages 20-30 with around seven years driving experience, through the simulation whilst their brain activity was monitored.
When doing a left hand turn, much of the brain network lit up
When turning left, the simulation lit up a large network in the brain, specifically the regions of the brain which are involved in visual processing, motor coordination and spacial navigation. In Comparison to when a subject was driving straight or turning right, a lot more brain activity was seen when a subject was turning left.
The Principal researcher Dr. Tom Schweizer of St Michael’s hospital said, if you think about it, you are in a busy intersection, you have to look at the traffic light to ensure that you don’t turn whilst it is red and you have to also take into consideration the oncoming traffic, to time the turn so that you do not get T-Boned.
When subjects were asked to answer a number of true or false questions during the left hand turn, to represent talking on a hands free device, the visual processing section of the brain shut down by 50% whilst blood moved to the decision making prefrontal cortex.
Schweizer said that if a driver is actively listening, then you are going to have to take away some of the brain resources from the primary task of driving. The left hand turn study came about after researchers asked themselves exactly what makes patients who have brain tumours or trauma, unfit to drive.