Common sense tells me that talking on a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle isn’t safe. While that seems obvious, what happens in the brain while it juggles the two tasks is not so easily understood. A study by a University of South Carolina psychology researcher featured in the journal, Experimental Psychology, provides a better understanding of why language – talking and listening, including on a cell phone – interferes with visual tasks, such as driving. In two different experiments, associate professor of psychology Dr. Amit Almor found that planning to speak and speaking put far more demands on the brain’s resources than listening. In explaining what had been done, Dr. Almor observed:
We measured their attention level and found that subjects were four times more distracted while preparing to speak or speaking than when they were listening. People can tune in or out as needed when listening.
Forty-seven people participated in the experiment. One experiment required participants to detect visual shapes on a monitor, and a second experiment required participants to use a computer mouse to track a fast-moving target on the screen. In both experiments, participants performed the visual task while listening to prerecorded narratives and responding to the narratives. Dr. Almor calls the finding “very strong” and expects it to be even stronger in actual, interactive conversation. The experiment was repeated using 20 pairs of friends who engaged in real conversation while completing visual tasks. Those results are being compiled this summer.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reported in April that 25% of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by distractions. A survey done by Nationwide Mutual Insurance in 2007 indicated that 73% of drivers talk on cell phones while driving. Since cell-phone sales have increased to 254 million in February 2008 – up from 4.3 million in 1990 – according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, there is good reason for researchers to study the brain. That’s a sure way to find out how talking and listening on a cell phone interferes with driving a car. At the University of South Carolina, Dr. Almor conducts research on language and memory (the brain’s ability to acquire, organize, revise and store information). Hopefully, his work relating to cell phone use while driving a motor vehicle will, in conjunction with other studies, encourage state legislative bodies to ban cell phones while driving.
Source: Insurance Journal
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