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Cell Phone Conversations Are Annoying and Distracting, Research Confirms

Update Date: Mar 14, 2013 04:00 PM EDT

Cell phones are more present than ever. According to a recent study, there are as many cell phone subscriptions as there are people on Earth. They are incredibly useful, and it seems unlikely that the technology is going anywhere. Unfortunately for bystanders, eavesdropping on cell phone conversation is annoying - even more annoying than listening to two people have a conversation right behind them. Now, science has just confirmed that fact: cell phone conversations are indeed more annoying and distracting than hearing both sides of a conversation.

According to TIME magazine, the researchers from the University of California, San Diego performed their study with 164 undergraduate students. Each of the students needed to perform a task surrounding anagrams, determining that the letters "osmeu" were the same as the letters for "mouse". While the students were concentrating on the task, the scientists carried out a scripted conversation about furniture, a date or a trip to the mall. Half the time, two scientists had the conversation in front of the student; the other half the time, the scientist conducted the conversation by phone.

Both sets of students, who listened to either both sides or one side of the conversation, performed equally well on the anagram task. However, the students who listened to the phone conversation could remember better the content and the words from the talk. They also were more likely to describe the topic and time frame of the conversation as annoying, and reported that it was more distracting.

Researchers say that people feel that way because our brains naturally want to fill in the missing parts of the conversation, even if we are not actively trying to eavesdrop. Experts say that eavesdroppers have less of an idea of where the conversation is headed as well.

"We'd been doing the study for a couple of months, and I was at the store looking at clothes, and the lady next to me was on a cell phone saying, 'Yeah, he was in jail last night,'" study author Veronica Galván said to LiveScience. "I had no idea what she was talking about - it was just a snipped-off conversation without context, and it really was different from a conversation you could hear both sides of."

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

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