Behavioral studies have shown that engaging in a secondary task, such as talking on a cellular telephone, disrupts driving performance. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the impact of concurrent auditory language comprehension on the brain activity associated with a simulated driving task. Participants steered a vehicle along a curving virtual road, either undisturbed or while listening to spoken sentences that they judged as true or false. The dual-task condition produced a significant deterioration in driving accuracy caused by the processing of the auditory sentences. At the same time, the parietal lobe activation associated with spatial processing in the undisturbed driving task decreased by 37% when participants concurrently listened to sentences. The findings show that language comprehension performed concurrently with driving draws mental resources away from the driving and produces deterioration in driving performance, even when it does not require holding or dialing a phone.
Just, M. A., Keller, T. A., & Cynkar, J. (2008). A decrease in brain activation associated with driving when listening to someone speak. Brain research, 1205, 70-80.