Driving Advantage 03 - Sensory Inputs

Sensory Inputs

The first step in creating an action is the reception and processing of sensory stimuli. These stimuli include vision, hearing, and a very broad category that for the moment we will call “feeling”. The mind is capable of processing multiple stimuli simultaneously.

Proprioception is the technical term for those stimuli I call “feelings”. I think this source of sensory input is much underrated. In my view, the sensory information provided by these sense organs is absolutely vital to driving fast. Because the sensations are so vague and hard to define they have been ignored.

There are several types of proprioceptive sensors. The most important are the organs of the inner ear. These organs sense balance, orientation with respect to gravity, direction, and rate of spin. Other organs are in the muscles and tendons. These organs sense force, position, tension, movement, and orientation. Lastly, there are a set or sense organs called cutaneous sense organs which sense touch, pressure, and vibration. All of the sense organs provide a vast amount of data that is processed at an unconscious level into an ensemble of information that is useable.
We must make an effort to develop these senses. I believe you should spend time in an environment where you’re receiving significant sensory inputs though this channel, eyes closed, focusing on these proprioceptive sensations. Two possibilities come to mind, anytime you’re riding as a passenger in a car and any amusement park ride.

It goes without saying that vision is the most important source of information. However, motor learning has discovered some very interesting things about vision. There are really two visual systems, focal vision and ambient vision. Focal vision is the sense we routinely call vision. It is the conscious vision with which we look at things and identify them. Ambient vision, on the other hand, is unconscious and involves complex unconscious processing to determine where things are, what direction they are traveling, and at what speed. A good example of the capability of ambient vision is demonstrated when something comes directly at your eye; you blink to protect your eye long before focal vision is even aware of the event. This distinction in vision systems becomes important because of two characteristics; one, it measures those things most important to driving a car; and two, it operates much more quickly than focal vision. The problem arises when we make ambient visual information conscious.

It is important that ambient vision manages all the visual speed and distance processing, as it is both much faster, operating at about 100ms, and is more accurate than focal vision.

Conscious vs. Unconscious Processing:
The problem of bringing subconscious processes into consciousness is a major problem in all sports. The reason for this is that most sensory information processing is done much faster and more accurately by the unconscious mind. Whenever the conscious mind becomes involved several bad things happen. One, the processes are slowed considerably. Two, the conscious mind can and often does overrule the unconscious evaluation leading to a poorer outcome. Three, the conscious mind can easily become overloaded and not attend to the executive level processing that it is supposed to be focused on.

Again, we should keep in mind the relative speed of the stimuli; focal vision is slow and requires conscious interaction. Ambient vision is much quicker. Proprioception is also much quicker then focal vision.

Hearing is not one of the more critical senses in racing. It does however play a part predominantly on the monitoring level. By this, I mean it is in the background, waiting and monitoring. Waiting for anomalous stimuli and monitoring all the sounds of the car. It becomes active when it detects a difference from the normal. The challenge here is to give it its proper weight. You should become used to the normal sounds produced during racing and learn to only allow significant changes into the consciousness.

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© 2007 Doug Snyder of Force 5 Racing Team
Permission granted; "Driving Advantage"

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