If there were no other road users, then these would be the only two cognitive skills a cyclist needs: (1) staying upright, and (2) steering. However, we almost always cycle on public roads, and share them with other road users: pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and a whole range of motorised four-wheelers. These other road users are often a risk for the cyclist’s safety, and this imposes demands on his cognitive skills. Specifically, a cyclist must be able to notice potentially dangerous situations.
Potentially dangerous situations are not always noticed, and there are two reasons for this:
- The cyclist has his or her attention during the movement task (staying upright and steering).
- There are many objects in the environment that draw the cyclist’s attention.
Both factors result in an insufficient attention for the potentially dangerous situation. Our attention capacity is limited, and there is competition for that limited attention. As a result of that competition, somethings escape our attention. A nice illustration of this is given in the following video of an attention test. This test is quite difficult, and I recommend to play the video fullscreen immediately after start-up (click on the icon in the lower right corner of the video). Pay attention to screen, because the actual test starts immediately after a short instruction.
If you have already seen the video above, then you can better watch the one below.
The above videos are an illustration of competition between two perceptual tasks: (1) counting the number of passes and (2) noticing a character. While cycling, there is also competition, although not between two perceptual tasks, but between a movement task (staying upright and steering) and an observation task (noticing potentially dangerous situations). Freeing up attentional resources for the perceptual task is possible by reducing the competition, and this can be done in two ways:
- By reducing the attention that is required for the movement task.
- By focusing our attention only on the stimuli that are relevant for cycling.
We will describe both ways in more detail.