The role of route familiarity in traffic participants’ behaviour and transport psychology research: A systematic review

Ilse Harms*, Bridget Burdett, Samuel Charlton

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)
    66 Downloads (Pure)


    Studies of how transport behaviour (e.g., driving, cycling, and walking) is affected by practice and familiarity are not commonplace, in spite of the fact that much of our travel takes place on familiar, well-practiced routes. In other areas, it is well-established that repetition affects cognition, particularly memory and attention. The goals of the current systematic literature review were 1) to explore how researchers have described and examined the effects of people’s familiarity with routes and road types, and 2) to obtain a better insight into the cognitive processes, and behaviour that occur in familiar road environments.

    The systematic review was conducted based on the principles described in the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA). Scopus’ database was searched systematically using predefined search combinations which involved (1) the transport modes of driving, cycling, and walking; (2) research methods that typically involve route- or situation-familiar participants (e.g., naturalistic studies, observational studies and field operational tests); and (3) various words associated with route familiarity (e.g., familiar, everyday, and commute).

    Ninety-four studies met all inclusion criteria. Results were analysed in terms of the cognitive and behavioural changes associated with familiarity, as reported in the studies. Route familiarity was typically reported to reduce the amount of cognitive control used to process the immediate environment and to increase mind wandering, compared to unfamiliar situations. Familiarity also increased recall accuracy and opportunities for self-regulatory behaviour, and decreased task difficulty.

    Familiarity appears to have large effects on how people attend to and process the environment. Given the proportion of time people spend travelling in familiar situations, this low attention, high familiarity state should be considered the default mode and as a more integral context for experimental, naturalistic and observational research in transport psychology.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number100331
    Number of pages24
    JournalTransportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives
    Publication statusPublished - Mar-2021


    • Route familiarity
    • Systematic review
    • PRISMA
    • Skilled behaviour
    • Automaticity
    • Everyday driving

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