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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
The Dangers of Talking While Driving
New Study Shows Distractions Are the Problem
Is talking on a cellphone really so dangerous? New research shows that language interferes with visual tasks and why speaking is more difficult on the brain than listening.
"It's really an attention problem, not really about holding the phone in your hand," said Dr. Amit Almor, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina. Almor and colleague Tim Boiteau measured attention levels in 94 people, and discovered that talking or preparing to speak was four times more distracting than listening. Almor said, "People can tune in or out as needed when listening."
The participants in the studies were asked to perform visual tasks such as using a mouse to track a fast-moving target across a computer scree, while listening to pre-recorded narratives and then responding. The voice would also move around the room, either front, back or side-to-side.
Published in the journal "Experimental Psychology," the study shows visual tasks were completed most readily when voices came from the front, though the effect was not as dramatic as the difference between listening and speaking.
"When the voice came from the front the interference was minimized," said Almor, implying that people might find it easier to have everything that requires our attention occupying the same space.
Almor said the experiment was repeated using 20 pairs of friends involved in live conversations, and even more conclusive results are expected when they are compiled this summer. "I suspect that the greater the urge to speak, the greater the distraction from the visual task."
Almor also explained that the results show that when applied to the visual task of driving, using hand-free devices is not very helpful. "This isn't getting through to many legislators," he said while adding that with driving talking on the phone is also different from talking to someone in the car. "When you have someone sitting next to you they are acting as an extra set of eyes, something that a remote person can't alert you to."
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