Overheard phone calls more memorable, rated more distracting than other background talking

A one-sided cellphone conversation in the background is likely to be much more distracting than overhearing a conversation between two people, according to research published March 13 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Veronica Galván and colleagues from the University of San Diego.

The authors studied the effects of overhearing either one side of a cell phone call or a chat between two people on the attention and memory of people who overheard these conversations. Participants in the study were asked to complete a task involving anagrams. As they performed the task, researchers carried out a short, scripted conversation in the background about shopping for furniture, a or meeting a date at the mall. Half the participants overheard one side of the conversation carried out on the phone, and the rest overheard the discussion as a conversation between two people in the room with them. Participants were unaware that the conversation was part of the study.

Galvan says, "This is the first study to use a realistic situation to show that overhearing a cell phone conversation is a uniquely intrusive and memorable event. We were interested in studying this topic since cell phone conversations are so pervasive and could impact to those conversations at work and in other settings of ."

Participants who overheard the one-sided cell phone call thought the background conversation was much more distracting than those who heard it as a chat between two people. Not only did participants rate the cell phone conversation as more distracting, they also remembered more words and content from the , and made fewer errors when recognizing which words were a part of the phone call.

"Research suggests that unintentional eavesdropping on cell phone calls can be explained by the additional attentional resources needed to understand the unpredictable content of the conversation. Not knowing where the conversation is heading is what makes cell more distracting", explains Rosa Vessal, a co-author on the study.

More information: Galvan VV, Vessal RS, Golley MT (2013) The Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on the Attention and Memory of Bystanders. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058579

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Lift weights, improve your memory

1 hour ago

Here's another reason why it's a good idea to hit the gym: it can improve memory. A new Georgia Institute of Technology study shows that an intense workout of as little as 20 minutes can enhance episodic ...

Fat chats: The good, the bad and the ugly comments

3 hours ago

Cyberbullying and hurtful 'fat jokes' are disturbingly prevalent in the social media environment, especially on Twitter, says Wen-ying Sylvia Chou of the National Institutes of Health in the US. Chou is lead ...

Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent some forms of depression

5 hours ago

Patients with increased inflammation, including those receiving cytokines for medical treatment, have a greatly increased risk of depression. For example, a 6-month treatment course of interferon-alpha therapy ...

Ethical behavior can be contagious, study says

6 hours ago

A new study from Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty members Steven Huddart and Hong Qu examines the power of social influence on managers' ethical behavior. The Department of Accounting researchers find that managers ...

User comments