Your brain needs to focus.
You’re driving away, music blaring, window down, chatting to your friends – no bother.
Once you realise you have missed a few turns and do not know where you are, you lose the cool factor. Window up, radio off, gnarl at your friends to be quiet, as you need to concentrate.
It is almost like you had reverted to the way you were when you first started to learn to drive.
In a way, you are catapulted back to when you where learning to drive.
It has to do with how you (and your brain) pays attention.
When you first had driving lessons, it was brain overload. You had to pay attention to holding the wheel, what your feet were doing, speed, making the car move. Once you were off, you had to negotiate other cars, pedestrians, dogs, balls rolling in front of you. Your brain was fried!
There was no way, you could tune this out and listen to music at the same time.
Your brain was learning a new skill.
Over time, with repeated practice, you started to get better. Until one day your brain said
“Relax, I’ve got this. Turn the music on, stick your arm out the window; I can do this automatically now.”
That’s pretty much what happens. You pay attention to something over and over again until it becomes automatic.
What happens in your brain?
Your driving, at first, needs all your attention. With practice, your brain is laying down all the neural networks needed for driving. Eventually, these become automatic and become a type of long term memory, called procedural memory ( a type of implicit memory.)
Once this happens, it is like a process that runs in the background and requires no conscious thought or effort on your part. This allows you to pay attention to other things, such as listening to music and chatting with your friends, while you drive a car. It is sort of like, your brain can remember how to drive without much involvement from you.
So why turn the music down?
Once you realise that you are lost, you need to refocus. It would help if you had all of your attention. Your brain appears to have a limited capacity for consciously selected attention. Real focused attention does not make the multi-task very well. If you want to see how this works, try to continue to read this post and talk to someone at the same time – you can’t do it very well! One task will win; you will either read or talk.
To avoid information overload, you need to tune out other distractions, in this case, music. You turn the music down to allow you to focus on what is important – getting directions.
Once you find your way again, you’re cool! Everything switches back to automatic processing, and you are free again to listen to music and chat with your friends.