Wertheim's hypothesis on 'highway hypnosis': empirical evidence from a study on motorway and conventional road driving

Accid Anal Prev. 2004 Nov;36(6):1045-54. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2004.02.002.


This paper aims to study the phenomenon known as 'highway hypnosis' or 'driving without attention mode', which has been defined as a state showing sleepiness signs and attention slip resulting from driving a motor vehicle for a long period in a highly predictable environment with low event occurrence, this being the case with motorways and very familiar roads [Highway hypnosis: a theoretical analysis. In: Gale, A.G., Brown, I.D., Haslegrave, C.M., Moorhead, I., Taylor, S. (Eds.), Vision in Vehicles-III. Elsevier, North-Holland, pp. 467-472]. According to Wertheim's hypothesis on 'highway hypnosis', long-term driving on motorways and conventional roads, e.g. main roads, secondary roads--implies differences in the predictability of the movement pattern of the visual stimulation, in the eye musculature activity and in the type of feedback used in visual information processing (mostly extra-retinal on motorways and retinal and extra-retinal on conventional roads). All this ultimately leads to alertness differences between both road types. Our research is intended to provide empirical evidence from the hypothesis, based on the data recorded during the actual driving experience of a group of subjects on a motorway and a conventional road. We studied whether or not significant alertness differences were found-measured by EEG data relative to time periods of on-target eye-tracking performance--between motorway and conventional road driving. Our results partially support the hypothesis, as drowsiness proved to be higher on motorways than on conventional roads during the final driving period but not during the starting stage, when the opposite trend was noticed. This result could be explained by the fact that during the first driving periods the effects of the stimulus movement predictability had not yet become apparent, since they tend to show after a long drive.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Spain