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Other People's Cell Phone Conversations Really Are Annoying
Date:5/21/2010

The brain finds hearing half a conversation more distracting, study shows

FRIDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- If you've ever wanted to shout "shut up!" while listening to someone else's cell phone conversation in an elevator, train or restaurant, new research reveals why.

Overhearing one-sided conversations really is more annoying because the brain finds it more taxing, and therefore more distracting, to listen to only half of a conversation versus the whole thing.

"It's unbelievably irritating to overhear someone on a cell phone," said lead study author Lauren Emberson, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "It's harder to tune out, you can't pull your attention away from it and you're more distracted by it.

Emberson and her colleagues did a series of experiments in which college students were asked to do certain tasks that required their full attention while listening to recordings of female college students having a conversation about a current event or other topic. The students were told to ignore the recording as best they could.

In one task, students had to follow a moving dot on a computer screen with a mouse. In another task, they had to remember a series of four letters and were told to press a button each time one flashed on a screen and not to press the button when other letters flashed.

Students first did the tasks in a silent room to determine their baseline proficiency.

When researchers had them do the same tasks while listening to a dialogue, they did just as well as they did in the silent room. They also did well when listening to a monologue, or one person recounting an earlier conversation.

But when researchers played only one side of the dialogue -- similar to overheard cell phone chatter -- the number of errors students made on the attention tasks spiked.

The research will appear in a upcoming issue of th
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