Mitigating passive fatigue during monotonous drives with thermal stimuli: Insights into the effect of different stimulation durations

Elisabeth Schmidt

Angelika C. Bullinger

Abstract: Driving on monotonous roads has been shown to cause passive fatigue as even non-sleep-deprived drivers suffer from the lack of stimuli. Consequently, alertness is reduced and the risk of accidents increases. To counteract this risk, measures need to be taken to mitigate driver fatigue. While in the past, some studies have been focused on the potential of thermal stimuli to reduce fatigue, their results seem inconclusive. Examining the study conditions in which the thermal stimuli were studied, it becomes obvious that the duration of the thermal stimulus strongly affects perceived fatigue. To better understand this relation, a driving simulator study (n = 33) was conducted investigating both a 2 min and a 4 min thermal stimulus (15C), where air was circulated on non-sleep-deprived drivers. For the 4 min stimulus, patterns of increased sympathetic activity (i.e. significant pupil dilatation and bradycardia) were recorded. Furthermore, participants subjectively rated fatigue significantly lower when the stimuli were applied, and preferred driving with the stimulus. The superior performance of the 4 min stimulus can be derived from a longer effect on the physiological data as well as even lower subjective fatigue ratings. Results also point to the limits of thermal stimulation: 6 min after the stimuli, the participants no longer feel an effect (based on subjective ratings). Future research on passive fatigue countermeasures should hence build on the identified effect of a 4 min cooling stimulus to increase physiological arousal and focus on the opportunities to increase effect duration.


  • Driver fatigue
  • Fatigue countermeasure
  • Thermal stimulation
  • Cooling

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