MONDAY, Sept. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Overhearing someone talk on
a cell phone can be very annoying because it makes it hard, if not
impossible, to concentrate on what you're doing, according to a new
Hearing just one side of the conversation is much more
distracting than hearing both sides and erodes your attention to
other tasks, explained Lauren Emberson, a psychology Ph.D.
candidate at Cornell University.
She played recordings of one side and both sides of a
conversation to volunteers as they tried to complete computer tasks
that required attention, such as using a mouse to track a moving
dot. The participants did much worse on the task when they could
hear only half of the conversation, she discovered.
Your brain tends to ignore predictable things, but pays more
attention to unpredictable situations. When you hear both sides of
a conversation, it flow predictably. But just one side of phone
conversation is quite unpredictable, Emberson explained -- that's
why it's so hard to shut out.
The study appears in the journal
Talking on a cell phone in public "has a really profound effect
on the cognition of people around you, and it's not because they're
eavesdropping or they're bad people. Their cognitive mechanism
basically means that they're forced to listen," Emberson said in an
Association for Psychological Science news release.
For more on evolving cell phone etiquette, please visit
PBS's Media Shift.