Highway Hypnosis

Have you ever found yourself at your destination even though you have no recollection of driving there? I can say for a fact I have. Sometimes after late night babysitting jobs I get into my car and then bam, I find myself parked in my own driveway. Maybe you have found yourself driving to school only to have no memory of it or maybe you are just a passenger and suddenly you look out the window and see that you’re 20 minutes from where you left even though it seems that you have been in the car for just a couple of minutes.  This phenomenon is called highway hypnosis, which is very common and potentially very scary. So, let me ask you, did you just read this paragraph and now realize you have no idea what you just read?

Sean Meehan, a kinesiology professor, says that there is a change in the state of our brain that results in information (input) not getting to centers in our brain where we actively, consciously process that input (working/sensory memory). When someone lapses into highway hypnosis, they experience slowed brain activity and aren’t fully conscious of their surroundings, which is most likely to occur when we are tired.

But we necessarily don’t have to be tired to experience highway hypnosis. During long trips, sometimes we just zone out because there is a lack of change in perceptual information in our surroundings and we suddenly realize that we haven’t been aware of what we are doing. Our brains go into an autopilot mode and will continue until something in our environment catches our attention, like a dog running in the street or someone merging closely into your lane. Some people get so zoned out that they forget what they are doing entirely and find themselves drifting off the road, hitting those rumble stripes (the raised pieces of asphalt on the sides of most highways), that they finally get back into a fully conscious state.

Some people aren’t so lucky that they can make it to their destination unharmed even though they had experienced highway hypnosis. Highway hypnosis contributes to many car accidents, even train and bike accidents, each year. Meehan suggests taking breaks during long car trips, use caution when listening to music, be well rested when driving, keep your vehicle cool, and maintain good posture to stay alert while driving to avoid lapsing into highway hypnosis.

Lupkin, S. (2013, December 04). You’ve Probably Experienced Highway Hypnosis. Retrieved from    https://abcnews.go.com/Health/highway-hypnosis/story?id=21098081

1 thought on “Highway Hypnosis

  1. jpeiris

    I relate to this post so much. I remember actually talking about this in high school in a psychology class during the section on the brain. I would sometimes find myself “blacking out” on my drive home because I was so used to the route that I went through highway hypnosis! Luckily nothing bad ever came from it besides me wondering what happened between the traffic light near the Giant in my hometown and the moment I pulled into my driveway. I know that playing loud enough music and cracking open a window could help avoid this. We get so used to the “normal stuff”, our brain no longer looks for it; it’s just another part of the background.

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