Although driving whilst talking on a mobile is illegal and subject to an on-the-spot fine of £60 with a three penalty points on your driving license many drivers still think that they can drive safely whilst chatting on a hand held mobile.

clownResearchers decided to test whether talking on a mobile really did lead to “inattentional blindness.” Rather than risk the lives of their guinea pigs by conducting their experiment on busy roads with cars and drivers they took the safer option of using pedestrians in a car free zone.

The pedestrians were asked to do a variety of tasks so that researchers could assess which tasks caused most distraction. They were assessed walking alone or in pairs either listening to an ipod or using their mobiles. The phone users were seen to have difficulties performing even the simple task of walking – an action that should require relatively few cognitive resources. They walked more slowly, changed direction more often, were prone to weaving, and acknowledged other individuals more rarely.

The researchers then decided to test their guinea pigs observational skills by asking a clown to ride a unicycle across the car free precinct. Only twenty-five percent of the pedestrians using their mobile phones reported noticing the unusual sight of a unicycling clown. The report of this experiment adds that “the walkers not using a cell phone noticed the clown over fifty-percent of the time” – which seems a bit worrying.

Dr. Ira E. Hyman, Jr. at Western Washington University, head researcher of the study, says: “If people experience so much difficulty performing the task of walking when on a hand held phone just think of what this means when put into the context of driving safety. People should not drive while talking on a phone.”


Journal reference:

  1. Ira E. Hyman Jr., S. Matthew Boss, Breanne M. Wise, Kira E. McKenzie, Jenna M. Caggiano. Did you see the unicycling clown? Inattentional blindness while walking and talking on a cell phone. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2009; n/a DOI: 10.1002/acp.1638

Wiley-Blackwell (2009, October 20). Distracted By A Cell Phone? Some Cell Phone Users Fail To See Unicycling Clown Passing Them. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/10/091019172628.htm

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