Welcome to Emma Nilsson's doctoral defence: "Effects on cognitive tasks on car drivers' behaviours and physiological responses"

Welcome to Emma Nilsson's doctoral defence: "Effects on cognitive tasks on car drivers' behaviours and physiological responses"

30 September 2022 13:00–16:00

Welcome to Emma Nilsson's doctoral dissertation! She will defend her doctoral thesis "Effects on cognitive tasks on car drivers' behaviours and physiological responses".

Emma Nilsson is an industrial PhD student at Chalmers University, division of Vehicle Safety, employed at Volvo Cars. She holds a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). The focus of her research is cognitive distraction in car drivers.

  • Opponent: Professor Dick de Waard, Department of Clinical & Developmental Neuropsychology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
  • Supervisors: Jonas Bärgman (Associate Professor, Chalmers University), Mikael Ljung Aust (Volvo Cars)
  • Examiner: Marco Dozza (Professor, Chalmers University)

Coffee and cake will be served after the defense. If you want to join this part, please let Sonja (sonja.laakso@chalmers.se) know by Sep 23rd.

The aim of this thesis is to improve our understanding of how car drivers are affected by activities which take their mind, but not their eyes, off the road, such as talking on the phone and using voice control. Many studies show impaired driving abilities when drivers perform such cognitive tasks, yet other studies show that the risk of crashes do not increase. To better understand these seemingly conflicting findings, this PhD work explored effects of cognitive tasks in different traffic scenarios. It was found that reflexive behaviors, such as braking to avoid a collision, were unaffected by cognitive tasks, but more deliberate behaviors, such as looking around for potential threats, were impaired. This finding is important for understanding when cognitive tasks may, and may not, pose a safety problem. In the future, autonomous driving (AD) is expected to allow safe engagement in cognitive (and other) tasks. Being able to do other things while traveling may then be a key reason for drivers to use AD, provided they can really engage in that other activity, such as work. This ability was therefore studied, and it was found that this was indeed the case. To further improve our understanding of the effects of cognitive tasks, we need to be able to measure the mental responses to these tasks (without disturbing the driver). Therefore, this thesis work also shows how physiological measures (e.g., heart rate and pupil diameter) can be used to assess mental responses more accurately, and thus improve traffic safety research and product development in the automotive industry.


Emma Nilsson
emma.nilsson [at] volvocars.com