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Cellphone Study: Cellphone Talkers More Distracting Than Real Two-Way Conversations

03/19/2013 04:27 EDT | Updated 03/19/2013 04:27 EDT
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Woman traveling in a bus and talking on a mobile phone

We all know how annoying it is to listen to someone's yappy one-way conversation on a cellphone, especially when you're stuck in a public place like a restaurant or a bus.

Well now science proves it. A study reported in The Atlantic shows that it's actually harder to tune out cellphone conversations than it is to block out regular conversations between people that you happen to overhear.

It's obvious that talking on a cellphone yourself can be dangerous in certain situations. A Canadian study reported in the Globe and Mail last month showed that drivers talking on cellphones have "brainpower outages," which increase their chances of being in a collision. The more surprising finding was that this was also the case using hands-free devices.

But how much harm can other people's cellphone calls do, really? The recent study, published in the online journal PLOS ONE, tested 150 psychology students who were given anagram tests. (They weren't told the real purpose of the study.)

The researchers wanted to test how different types of distracting conversations affected the students' ability to perform the anagram test, so some of the students were subjected to cellphone talkers, while others had to listen to real two-way conversations between people pretending to take the same test. Unexpectedly, both groups had similar test results. However, the students who had to listen to the one-way cellphone conversations reported being more aggravated during the test, so much so that they remembered more words from those calls compared with the students who were listening in on the two-ways conversations.

The main take-away is that not only are cellphone talkers exasperating to listen to, but the negative implications for open-office environments where workers are constantly listening to their colleagues' phone calls. We hope this doesn't pave the way for the comeback of cubicles!

So listen up, next time you're chatting loudly on your phone at work, or a commuter train or street car, try to be a teensy bit more considerate.

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