Great Hang Up for 2/23/11
BELLINGHAM, WA - How much do you miss right in front of you when you're using your cell phone? It turns out you might even miss a spectacle. In a groundbreaking study out of Western Washington University, researchers wanted to see how distracting a cell phone can be with the help of a clown on a unicycle.
"It's not a question of what your hands are doing. It's a question of what your head is doing. And so when your head is engaged in that phone conversation, you become blind to some of the things happening around you," said Dr. Ira Hyman of Western Washington University.
Translation: When people are on cell phones, hands-free or not, they can't focus fully on driving or even walking. Doctor Hyman garners a lot attention for his research on the phenomena known as inattentional blindness.
In one study on the topic, he found that 75 percent of people in pairs noticed a clown on a unicycle riding through a busy area of campus. More than half walking alone saw him. But the cell phone users, no clowning around, just 25 percent noticed the guy with the big red nose.
"You've been walking since you were two, and if you can't walk and talk on the cell phone.. how much worse is it if you're going to be driving a car?," asked Dr. Hyman.
When we recreated the study, we saw much of the same results. Most people on cells passed the the clown's polka dots. Chelsea Fauria was one of the students who overlooked the one-wheeled obstacle.
"Only when I got real close-up and he was coming towards me did i really see it," admitted Fauria, "It's pretty embarrassing. I'll be honest."
While walking with her friend, she said she's had many near misses on two feet with one cell phone in hand.
"I've run into things before," said Fauria with a smirk.
"We were just talking, and she completely missed my entire conversation because she was texting," added her friend, Taylor Purkett.
The clown in our recreation, Joe Myers travels to and from work on his unicycle. And his trek feels like research everyday; people on cell phones don't see him.
"I've got used to it. It's part of our age... the time we live in. That's the way people are... they're into the instant thing... me, now," offered Myers.
The problem with that is that it's not just you on the roads.
"It may be that there's another car moving through the lane that they're late to become aware of. It may be that they're not aware of the pedestrian crossing the street..." said Dr. Hyman.
You might even miss a clown on a unicycle.
By Lorraine Blanco, firstname.lastname@example.org