Dordt College News

Students mix texting and driving - in lab

May 24, 2013

A lab in Dr. Ryan Brunner’s Cognitive Psychology class this semester tested students’ ability to multi-task, particularly while driving.

Brunner set up a study designed to show students that the brain is incapable of multitasking.

Rather, it switches focus and attention back and forth between tasks, thereby decreasing performance in both.

To test this idea, students set up games of Wii Mario Kart and raced against each other. One student played without distractions, while another had to play while texting the Pledge of Allegiance or reaching backwards to select a specific toy out of a bag.

“It became clear that it is impossible to give sufficient attention to the road when we multitask. I don’t recall any of my classmates coming in the top 5 in Mario Kart when trying to drive and text,” said Junior Dorothy DeBoer.

“This is a tough concept to teach,” said Brunner, “but it’s an important one, and it applies to more than just driving.” 

“We live in a multitasking culture,” Brunner said. “Understanding attention allows us to understand how to live in an overwhelming information culture.”

Through weekly lectures and two-hour labs, Brunner’s students explored how thoughts work, studying subjects such as perception, attention, memory, and retention. The lab section of the course allowed students to experience more deeply the concepts they learned in Basic Psychology, Brunner said. 

According to DeBoer, the lab projects were “challenging yet enjoyable. What we learned about limited attention and about memory strategies was particularly interesting and applicable in daily life.”


Memory tests

Students also completed projects testing short- and long-term memory retention and operant conditioning in which they had to train each other to complete a task using only positive reinforcement. 

Students memorized large amounts of information: entire books of the Bible, the names of every country and capital, the names and locations of every bone and muscle in the human body.

According to Brunner, this project challenges traditional memorization techniques, and forces students to use the concepts they have learned in order to come up with new and more helpful techniques.

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