Why We Turn Down the Radio to Drive Better

April 17, 2019

When you're driving down the highway and feel lost or unsure of what exit to take, instead of reaching for a map you turn down the music. Cheddar explains multitasking and why your brain has you reach for the radio knob.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Speaker 1: Picture this scenario, you're driving down

Speaker 1: the street and your favorite song

Speaker 1: is blasting on the radio [MUSIC].

Speaker 1: When all of a sudden,

Speaker 1: you're not exactly sure where to go,

Speaker 1: what exit to take or which street to turn down.

Speaker 1: Rather than reaching for a map or maybe your phone,

Speaker 1: you turned on the radio instead.

Speaker 1: But if the radio isn't using your eyes,

Speaker 1: then why do you need to turn it down?

Speaker 1: It's because some forms of

Speaker 1: multitasking are harder than others [MUSIC],

Speaker 1: and you can thank your brain for that.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] Humans need to multitask.

Speaker 1: It's in our nature.

Speaker 1: When you're on the phone,

Speaker 1: you might find yourself pacing around

Speaker 1: the house without even realizing you're doing it.

Speaker 1: Or when you're at work in that meeting,

Speaker 1: you're still listening, but

Speaker 1: now you're going through your daily To Do list.

Speaker 1: Or maybe you're doodling.

Speaker 1: And when you're watching The

Speaker 1: Bachelor or Monday night football,

Speaker 1: you're also scrolling through

Speaker 1: your phone or eating a snack.

Speaker 1: We multitask because there's

Speaker 1: an absence of stimulus in these moments.

Speaker 1: Face to face conversation

Speaker 1: usually provides us with physical feedback.

Speaker 1: But on the phone, we don't have that.

Speaker 1: We only have the emotional connection.

Speaker 1: So your brain fills in what it thinks it's missing,

Speaker 1: the physical feedback and so you start pacing.

Speaker 1: Meetings can be long and boring

Speaker 1: and we don't want to fall

Speaker 1: asleep in front of our superiors,

Speaker 1: so we activate other stimuli

Speaker 1: to keep ourselves interested.

Speaker 1: Doodling can actually help you

Speaker 1: focus and there are

Speaker 1: even studies that prove it reduces stress.

Speaker 1: These types of multitasking feel beneficial.

Speaker 1: When we focus our attention on one thing it activates

Speaker 1: both sides of our prefrontal cortex a.k.a.

Speaker 1: the motivational part of

Speaker 1: your brain but your brain doesn't want to focus on

Speaker 1: one thing and that's because

Speaker 1: your prefrontal cortex craves novelty.

Speaker 1: It wants to be hijacked by new information.

Speaker 1: And those new things feel really good to our brain.

Speaker 1: These new stimuli cause a surge of

Speaker 1: endogenous opioids or endorphins

Speaker 1: to the reward seeking parts of our brain.

Speaker 1: When we start doing two things at once,

Speaker 1: even though it feels like we're focusing on them at

Speaker 1: the same time, we're actually not.

Speaker 1: You're actually switching between

Speaker 1: the two sides of your prefrontal cortex.

Speaker 1: Each of those switches which are appropriately

Speaker 1: called attention switching take a fraction of a second.

Speaker 1: Those seconds can start to add up and

Speaker 1: in the end it will take you longer to finish both tasks.

Speaker 1: They might also be riddled with mistakes because

Speaker 1: the more you exert your brain the faster it gets tired.

Speaker 1: Think of your working memory

Speaker 1: like any other muscle lifting weights.

Speaker 1: After a few reps it needs to rest and recover.

Speaker 1: When you multitask for

Speaker 1: an extended period of time it's like jumping from

Speaker 1: machine to machine without a break

Speaker 1: and your brain will really start to wear out.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] But that depends on the type of task.

Speaker 1: There are simple tasks

Speaker 1: like driving down a monotonous highway,

Speaker 1: which can be done almost subconsciously.

Speaker 1: And complex tasks,

Speaker 1: like driving through a confusing neighborhood,

Speaker 1: which you have to focus on.

Speaker 1: Complex tasks have a higher cognitive load,

Speaker 1: and therefore take more of a toll.

Speaker 1: So when you're driving your car around

Speaker 1: the neighborhood and talking on your cell phone,

Speaker 1: those are two complex tasks and

Speaker 1: you'll start to make mistakes or you'll miss things.

Speaker 6: Oh, that was the house. [OVERLAPPING]

Speaker 1: Throw in following directions

Speaker 1: and that's three complex tasks.

Speaker 1: And now you're even likely to make a wrong turn.

Speaker 2: What the hell. Yo, you're get on the freeway.

Speaker 3: What?

Speaker 2: No, turn right. Get out of the lane.

Speaker 2: [NOISE] A truck, a truck.

Speaker 1: But if the cognitive load is low,

Speaker 1: to put it simply with

Speaker 1: less distractions your brain

Speaker 1: will start to function better.

Speaker 1: The message is your neurons send each

Speaker 1: other will now be clearer and stronger.

Speaker 1: But because our brain craves new stimuli,

Speaker 1: we're more likely to start doodling or say

Speaker 1: turn on the radio when we don't have a lot going on.

Speaker 1: Because it helps us focus.

Speaker 7: [MUSIC] Oh, my God.

Speaker 8: It's our jam.

Speaker 4: This- this is our jam.

Speaker 4: This is our jam ladies, come on.

Speaker 1: But listening to loud music while you're doing

Speaker 1: a complex task can be really distracting.

Speaker 1: Dr. Steven Mantis, a professor in

Speaker 1: the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at

Speaker 1: Johns Hopkins University

Speaker 1: elaborates on the problem with that.

Speaker 1: He says when we're listening to something else,

Speaker 1: it turns down the volume on

Speaker 1: the input of the visual parts of the brain.

Speaker 1: Attention is strictly limited.

Speaker 1: When attention is deployed to one modality,

Speaker 1: say talking on a cell phone,

Speaker 1: it necessarily extracts a cost on another modality,

Speaker 1: say the visual task of driving.

Speaker 1: He's talking about divided attention or multitasking.

Speaker 1: A study in Sweden performed an MRI scan

Speaker 1: on 32 participants and

Speaker 1: showed that when people were

Speaker 1: visually focused on something,

Speaker 1: their responsiveness to their auditory nerves,

Speaker 1: their ability to hear decreased.

Speaker 1: Your brain is quite literally turning down the volume of

Speaker 1: external noises so you can see and focus better.

Speaker 1: If your subconscious can't

Speaker 1: turn down the volume [MUSIC] on its own,

Speaker 1: maybe the noises are too loud or too

Speaker 1: constant then your urge will be to turn it down yourself.

Speaker 1: That results in you reaching for the radio knob or

Speaker 1: snapping at your poor mother in

Speaker 1: the passenger seat. Sorry Mom.

Speaker 1: If the background noise isn't bothering you,

Speaker 1: then that's your brain doing a good job.

Speaker 1: So while you're just driving

Speaker 1: down that monotonous highway,

Speaker 1: listening to the radio is actually helpful.

Speaker 1: The driving is actually less of a complex task,

Speaker 1: and listening to music or a podcast provides new stimuli

Speaker 1: and it keeps the drivers focus

Speaker 1: the same way doodling in meetings do.

Speaker 1: But the second you get to that suburban web of

Speaker 1: streets and your instinct is to turn the radio down,

Speaker 1: follow that instinct because it's

Speaker 1: your brain's way of not making mistakes,

Speaker 1: which when it comes to

Speaker 1: a moving car can be quite dangerous.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC]