2018 Inaugural Professorial Lecture Series - Professor Samuel Charlton

Date Tuesday 15 May 2018
Time 5:15pm
Where The Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Dr John Gallagher Concert Chamber, Gate 1, Knighton Road, The University of Waikato
Presenter Professor Samuel Charlton
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Admission Cost Free

Getting There: The Psychology of Everyday Driving

Driving a car is a complex skill to learn. With practice however, it becomes so easy that we don’t give it a second thought. For most of us, driving is an everyday activity that we accomplish with very little effort or deliberation. The drive to work or home becomes all about getting there, with little attention given to the journey itself.

In his Inaugural Professorial Lecture, Professor of Psychology Samuel Charlton will describe his research into the mental processes that allow us to carry out familiar, everyday activities successfully, and why we then have little or no memory for the details of what happened. We are able to perform everyday skills such as driving, cycling, or walking at a 'preconscious' level, and if we focus our attention on how we are performing, it can interfere with our ability to continue doing them.

Over the past 20 years, Professor Charlton has explored driving as one of these everyday preconscious activities. Finding out what things influence drivers’ behaviour during their everyday trips has resulted in changes to the design of our roads in an approach called “self-explaining roads”. In one area of Auckland where these design changes were introduced, there was a 43% reduction in crashes in the following five years.

Along the way, his research on drivers’ use of mobile phones led to law changes here in NZ and overseas, and more recently, his research into the effects of moderate use of alcohol on driver performance led to changes in the alcohol limit for NZ drivers. Before taking up his position at the University of Waikato, Professor Charlton conducted research for developing aerospace systems such as the Global Positioning System and the Consolidated Space Operations Center.

Throughout his research career, Professor Charlton has been interested in understanding everyday situations and activities. “Whereas many psychology researchers focus on extreme behaviours or unusual situations, I have found that what we do when we’re not thinking about it leads to deeper insights into how our minds work, and in the case of driving, offers the greatest benefit to making our journeys safer and more enjoyable.”