Bright-light distractions and visual performance
Williamson CA., Morganti JJ., Smithson HE.
Visual distractions pose a significant risk to transportation safety, with laser attacks against aircraft pilots being a common example. This study used a research-grade High Dynamic Range (HDR) display to produce bright-light distractions for 12 volunteer participants performing a combined visual task across central and peripheral visual fields. The visual scene had an average luminance of 10 cd∙m−2 with targets of approximately 0.5° angular size, while the distractions had a maximum luminance of 9,000 cd∙m−2 and were 3.6° in size. The dependent variables were the mean fixation duration during task execution (representative of information processing time), and the critical stimulus duration required to support a target level of performance (representative of task efficiency). The experiment found a statistically significant increase in mean fixation duration, rising from 192 ms without distractions to 205 ms with bright-light distractions (p = 0.023). This indicates a decrease in visibility of the low contrast targets or an increase in cognitive workload that required greater processing time for each fixation in the presence of the bright-light distractions. Mean critical stimulus duration was not significantly affected by the distraction conditions used in this study. Future experiments are suggested to replicate driving and/or piloting tasks and employ bright-light distractions based on real-world data, and we advocate the use of eye-tracking metrics as sensitive measures of changes in performance.