Photoecological Conditions of Human Visual Attention in Transport

Theory and Research

by Olaf Edmund Truszczyński (Author)
©2020 Monographs 264 Pages


The book deals with problems of visual attention in various lighting conditions, including operator's work in air and road transport during the day, at dusk and during nighttime. Day provides the best condition for transporting people. Night, and to some extent dusk, causes difficulties in perceiving objects and threatens the level of security. Therefore, the experimental part focuses on the basic problems of visual attention under conditions of changing brightness, such as attention shifting, its intentionality and inhibition process and visual search. Stimulus detection times and the efficiency of object identification during simulated flight are also examined, depending on their characteristics and the assessment of aircraft position at night and at dusk, under daytime conditions and when using goggles night vision.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • 1.1. Characteristics of the light stimulus
  • 1.2. Light psychology
  • 1.3. Influence of variable light conditions on quality of vision in air and road transportation
  • 2.1. Eye and cerebral visual cortex
  • 2.2. Characteristics of visual receptors
  • 2.3. Central and peripheral processing of visual information
  • 3.1. Visual perceptual activities
  • 3.2. Gibson’s Ecological Theory of Perception
  • 3.3. Relations between perception and action
  • 3.4. Influence of night vision goggles on visual perception
  • 4.1. Saccades, fixation and pursuit eye movement
  • 4.2. Visual search in the attention process
  • 4.3. Selection of visual information
  • 5.1. The theory of Anne Treisman and Garry Gelade
  • 5.2. The theory of Michael Posner
  • 5.3. The theory of John M. Findlay and Robin Walker
  • 5.4. The theory of Burkhart Fischer
  • 5.5. The theory of Laurent Itti and Christoph Koch
  • 6.1. Psychological characteristics of the activity
  • 6.2. Situational awareness of operator as an indicator of visual attention
  • 6.3. Attention-situational awareness and different types of errors in transport research
  • 7.1. Models of experiments: A, B, and C
  • 7.2. Experiment A: the influence of changing lighting conditions on the mechanisms of visual attention distraction
  • 7.2.1. Research problem
  • 7.2.2. Hypothesis
  • 7.2.3. Research group
  • 7.2.4. Research equipment and procedure
  • 7.2.5. Results
  • 7.2.6. Discussion of the results
  • 7.3. Experiment B: the influence of changing lighting conditions on the intentional control of eye movements
  • 7.3.1. Problem
  • 7.3.2. Hypothesis
  • 7.3.3. Research group
  • 7.3.4. Research equipment and procedure
  • 7.3.5. Results
  • 7.3.6. Discussion
  • 7.4. Experiment C: the influence of changing lighting conditions on the effectiveness of visual search
  • 7.4.1. Research problem
  • 7.4.2. Hypothesis
  • 7.4.3. Research group
  • 7.4.4. Research equipment and procedure
  • 7.4.5. Results
  • 7.4.6. Discussion of the results
  • 7.5. Discussion of experiments A, B, and C
  • 8.1. A model of experiments: D and E
  • 8.2. Experiment D: the efficiency of searching for objects under varying light conditions, including night vision support systems (NVG)
  • 8.2.1. The research problem
  • 8.2.2. Hypothesis
  • 8.2.3. Research group
  • 8.2.4. Research equipment and procedure
  • 8.2.5. Research results
  • 8.2.6. Discussion of the results
  • 8.3. Experiment E: the influence of variable lighting conditions on situational awareness and flight parameters maintenance
  • 8.3.1. Problem
  • 8.3.2. Hypotheses
  • 8.3.3. Research group
  • 8.3.4. Research equipment and procedure
  • 8.3.5. Results
  • 8.3.6. Discussion of the results
  • 8.4. Discussion of experiments D and E
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

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Flying a plane or driving a car not only means that you can reduce your travel time, which is associated with the increase of travel speed, risk of colliding with an obstacle or losing control of the machine, but also increases the likelihood of an accident. One can even risk the claim that the safest way of traveling is walking (but not running), because during a walk even if there is a collision with someone or something, it usually does not lead to any serious consequences. The activity of operators working in different means of transport can be reduced to a visual check of where they are going at a given moment and the analysis of their eye movements to an assessment of the adopted perception “strategy” in relation to the current situation. During the day, such movement is much safer and the world is perceived as full of colours, which not only adds beauty to it but also facilitates the process of distinguishing and identifying important objects from the background, avoiding them or using information related to them, because colour is conducive to contrast, so that their recognition becomes easier. Driving or controlling an aircraft in such conditions allows you to adopt an optimal or at least satisfactory profile of the movement. However, the development of civilization is also associated with changes in environmental conditions, making transport fully possible at night, at dusk, and at dawn. These factors may have a negative impact on the level of performance. They bring with them a significant change in the requirements for the operator in the form of increasing the level of psychophysical stressors, proper tolerance of accelerations and speeds, thus burdening decisions with the possibility of making a mistake, including first of all perceptual errors. My interest in the functioning of visual attention mechanisms in the context of various lighting conditions resulted more from the observations of practical consequences of piloting modern aircraft, including military aircraft in the first place, than from purely theoretical cognitive curiosity. For many years, I have been learning about the special role and responsibility of man in the operation of aircraft, moving at high and low altitudes, at speeds sometimes extremely exceeding the natural human experience. Not without significance were also the experiences of Polish drivers and their behaviour on the road. There are opinions that a human being working with technologically advanced systems is their weakest, most unreliable link. They are not entirely acceptable; a human can be both the weakest and the strongest link in this cooperation, and proper diagnosis should always be made on a case-by-case basis laid on a broader environmental, situational, psychological, organisational ←11 | 12→and social context. Man’s “weakness” results first of all from the possibility of making mistakes and violations of security procedures, while his “strength” is the ability to compensate for any imperfections, both his own and the system’s, and to come out safely from situations that involve a real or potential threat to life. It was in this context that I have had the opportunity to confront my psychological knowledge with representatives of other scientific disciplines. I was always struck by the need to translate the theoretical language of psychology into the language of practice and good communication with these specialists. Also, then, perhaps not in a fully aware manner, an ascertainment arose that one of the most important issues was the analysis of the accuracy of task execution, in an environment poor vs. rich in visual stimuli. It is known that humans react to objects in the field of vision that are closer or farther away. Our ability to perceive objects, with particular emphasis on the interaction of vision and brain activity, should be appreciated. It is only then that the extraordinary effectiveness of this complementary system can be seen. It should be realised that we can talk about various types of vision: central, peripheral, optical, symbolic, detailed, holistic, and even compensatory – consisting in supporting the process of vision through cognitive functions, i.e. more of a guessing than a real recording in the consciousness of the existence of a given object (Millodot, 2014). It should also be borne in mind that while the anatomical structure and physiology of the human eye and the principles of optics are largely known and well understood, the perception and cognitive processes of the higher order, i.e. the way the image of the surrounding world is formed in the human brain, for example, and the accuracy of this reflection are still not fully explained, especially in the context of a reduced level of illumination of the perception scene.

Human has “gained” new possibilities to move around in space in conditions for which he is partly or completely unadapted. Thus, as early as 1938, it was recognised that “of all the skills that modern civilization requires of us, driving a car is most important to man in the sense that mistakes in this area translate into the greatest threat to human life” (Gibson, Crooks, 1938; after: Castro, 2009, p. ix). Nowadays, this statement seems to be even more valid, except that it is not limited to cars, but also applies to other ways of transporting people over a distance.

Pilot’s activity in aviation and driver’s activity in road traffic takes place at different times of the day. Therefore, a major challenge is to control airplanes and vehicles in daylight, dusk, and night vision conditions (photopic, mesopic and scotopic), and additionally in variable and difficult weather conditions (Nakagawara, Montgomery, Wood, 2006). The aim of the presented research is to evaluate the functioning of visual attention in changing lighting conditions. ←12 | 13→This issue seems to be crucial for transport safety, and research in the area of visual perception effectiveness is fully justified and should make an important contribution to technical and training-related support for the operator’s work. Perception and observation processes in natural conditions are so fast and easy that many people assume that this will happen in difficult weather conditions and when there is insufficient light. However, most perceptual errors occur when access to visual stimuli is degraded, which manifests itself in incomplete information that does not have all the elements necessary to recognise stimuli, including their gradient, texture, movement, or degree of shading. Simply speaking, if we divide the external environment into a visually rich and impoverished environment, it should be noted that the former is much more advantageous for the correct perceptual functioning of human.

It should be emphasised that both in the case of a pilot and to a large extent a driver, there is a phenomenon of a rapidly growing amount of visual information necessary to process in a unit of time (Terelak, 2015). This is the result of a change from the natural conditions in which man had been living until recently to an artificial environment such as an airplane cockpit or a car cabin. Virtually, every pilot has experienced a situation in which only through his own reaction did he avoid negative consequences related to a dangerous situation in flight. Unfortunately, this kind of “near accidents” are not always documented and analysed, although they do provide valuable information on human perception and subsequent action. They may also point to flawed pilot habits which, if detected early, could contribute to significant preventive actions to enhance flight safety (Gibb, Gray, Scharff, 2010). The situation is even worse for drivers, as these “near accidents” are almost completely ignored, although they can be used to counteract the occurrence of similar incidents in the future.

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1.1. Characteristics of the light stimulus

The presence of light is a necessary condition for the process of vision (Moschos, 2014), the beginning of which must be associated with the stimulation of the retina of the human eye by the electromagnetic radiation in the form of light rays. The most important function of vision is the ability to distinguish between darkness and brightness, but also to recognise the movement and shapes of objects together with their colour and to determine their distance from the eye. This is made possible by receiving light waves and transforming them into chemical and electrical impulses. The lighting level is defined in several ways: luminous flux Φ, expressed in lumens (lm) and specifying the strength of the light emitted by the source, luminous intensity I, indicated in candelas (cd) and understood as the amount of light emitted in a specific direction, illuminance E expressed in luxes (lx), understood as the amount of light reaching the work surface of a human being, and finally luminance L, measured in candelas per square metre (cd/m2) and denoting the amount of light reflected from the surface that reaches the eye of the observer (Buser, Imbert, 1992, p. 53). However, the most impressive properties of the eye are its range of visibility from 0.000001 to 100000 candelas per square metre (cd/m2) (Jacobs, 2007; Wördenweber, Wallaschek, Boyce, Hoffman, 2007) and its spectacular ability to distinguish colour tones, which is estimated at 100000 (Calkins, 1993) or even 10000000 (Wyszecki, Gunter, 2006).

Both the perfection and complexity of the human visual system translate into serious difficulties in understanding this phenomenon and into a lack of satisfactory results in attempts to replicate similar solutions in technical systems (Alexander, Morton, 2012). They would have an excellent application for both military and civil purposes, since it is easy to imagine the existence of autonomous transport machines with a human-like outside world imaging system and the possibility of replacing humans in extreme environmental conditions. According to today’s knowledge about light as perceived by humans, it can be defined as a visible spectrum or visible part of electromagnetic radiation or, in a broader sense, as so-called optical radiation (Sliney, 2016). Light is a form of radiation that is measured in wavelengths. Their range perceived by man is relatively narrow, when compared with the whole emission palette containing not only the visible band but also the adjacent bands. (Amorim, Molina-Moreno, ←15 | 16→Peña-García, 2016). Precise determination of the visibility range is not easy at all, because vision is an individual property, hence it is generalised that the visible band is 380–780 nm (nanometre is one billionth of a metre, or one millionth of a millimetre; Lukovic, Lukovic, Brca, Kasalica, Stanimirovic, Vicic, 2016). However, a slightly different range is also given, i.e. 400–700 nm or 300–750 nm (Kretzberg, Ernst, 2013). Vision becomes possible when the light is emitted in the visible spectrum and its source is located outside. To be seen, objects should be a source of light but more often they are its reflection (Dusenbery, 1992). The special emphasis on the external aspect of light, although it seems obvious, refers to historical attempts to explain this phenomenon. Plato, for example, thought that seeing was about emitting “inner” light from the eye in the form of light particles and lighting the immediate environment in the form of fiery flames, which somehow mix with daylight (Lindberg, 1976). Nowadays, this phenomenon is called the extramission theory and it has its origins in Plato’s views. Aristotle denied the possibility of extramission, but similar concepts have appeared in the views of various authors, even recently (Northoff, 2013). This is not completely unjustified, because there is still no full and scientifically justified interpretation of the phenomenon of seeing, based not only on the objective properties of light but also on its connection with the physiological and psychological processes of human. Both in the past and nowadays, there is a belief that one can give someone an evil look that can cause harm. The concept of “evil look” or “piercing look” is a kind of extramission of sight. In addition, we should also consider phenomena such as transmission of thoughts at a distance or awareness of the fact that someone is looking at us. It happens that a driver stopping at traffic lights suddenly directs his sight at another driver, who is also looking at him at the same time. This creates the impression that this happens quite often and is related to the phenomenon of extramission, although it is not proven in any way. In a slightly different sense this idea has been implemented nowadays, because a head lamp fitted to the forehead of the speleologist serves as additional lighting. However, the light source still comes from outside. Generating light from within the human body would require a very serious interference in the anatomical structure and would raise questions of both moral and purely medical nature about the scope of possible modifications of the human body.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (February)
aviation psychology traffic psychology perception visual attention situational awareness incidents and accident
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 264 pp., 53 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Olaf Edmund Truszczyński (Author)

Olaf E. Truszczyński is a graduate of the Military Medical Academy and the University of Łódź. At present, he works at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw as a psychologist. He completed courses on the investigation of aviation accidents and disasters in Poland, the United Kingdom and Sweden. He specializes in the psychology of aviation and road transport.


Title: Photoecological Conditions of Human Visual Attention in Transport
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266 pages