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Can we trust our eyes when judging the speed of oncoming traffic?

Posted on 11/08/2010

Scientists are studying our perception of the speed of oncoming vehicles

Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London are trying to discover why we make errors in judging the speed of oncoming vehicles which can lead to serious road accidents each year.

The project, led by Professor John Wann from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, is being featured in the ‘Live Science’ exhibit as part of the ‘Who Am I?’ gallery at the Science Museum over the summer and will look closely at issues such as why errors of this type are more common when there is a motorcycle approaching and why there is an increased incidence for elderly drivers and children making these type of mistakes at junctions.

‘Live Science’ is an ongoing project where scientists come into the museum to carry out research using museum visitors and volunteers. Professor Wann and his team, including Psychology students from Royal Holloway, are looking for visitors of all ages to take part to see if there are changes in perceptual abilities as we get older. Participants will be asked to view pictures of a car and truck or a car and a motorcycle on a computer screen and they will be asked to decide which vehicle is travelling faster than the other by clicking one of two buttons on the screen.

Professor Wann explains, “When you look down the road as a pedestrian or a driver, you make a decision as to whether you have time to cross or pull out and providing the visibility is good, we tend to be confident in our decisions. However we can show that there is often a systematic bias introduced into the information we use to judge the speed of approaching vehicles. This research will help us to find out whether our visual system can always be trusted.”

The research is taking place from 1-5pm every Saturday and Sunday until September 3 at the Science Museum and anyone over the age of six can take part.

To find out more about Professor Wann’s projects visit: http://www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/sites/ARL/index.htm or to find out more about the ‘Who Am I?’ gallery visit: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami


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