The Effect of Talking and Texting on Focus While Driving

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Divided attention is a result of multitasking. It is when your brain has to simultaneously. process and react multiple stimuli (Robinson-Riegler). A person with divided attention has to focus on many tasks at once and as a result are not fully paying attention to either. Inattentional blindness is a result of divided attention. This is when an individual doesn’t notice what is going on around them, specifically things that are new or unusual. Controlled processes of attention are a group of processes that require an individual’s complete focus and attention. They are usually associated with more difficult tasks (Colman, 2008).

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Hyman and the other researchers. believe that their study is important because it resulted in the same findings as previous experiments with driving simulators, but obtained them in a real-life setting. Past research has shown that individuals who were solely focused on driving completed the simulation better than individuals who talked on their cell phones. The effects of other sources of distraction, like books on tap, conversations with a passenger and music were also compared to the effects of cellphones. People who used their cell phones performed worse than individuals who engaged in any of the other distracting activities. Multiple studies reported that individuals who used a cell phone were more likely to miss stimuli that was new or unusual. Therefore, cell phone users were more likely to experience inattentional blindness. Individuals who used cell phones also drove more slowly than those who did not. Many researchers also found that even though drivers who used their cell phones performed poorly during the simulations they did not admit to it. These same results were reciprocated in the study by Hyman and his colleagues.

Hyman and his collaborators chose to study the effect that cell phone use had on walking due to flaws they identified in the studies done with driving simulators. In most of these studies participants are in an unfamiliar, and artificial environment. They are using a driving simulator instead of their cars, talking on a cell phone that isn’t their own, and having conversations with people that they would not normally talk to. In addition, the people in these studies may not have practice using their cell phone while they drive and will have a harder time completing the simulation task. As a result, these studies do not mimic to what happens in the real world. Walking was chosen becuase is an observable everyday task where people can be found using their cell phone. It was also chosen because it requires controlled processes of attention inorder to navigate the environment you are walking in. Hyman and his colleagues hoped to find that walking was negatively affected by divided attention due to cell phone use. They also wanted to determine that cell phone users were more likely to experience inattentional blindness. I think that Hyman and his colleagues make a good point when they mention that these driving simulations are not the closest representation of the conditions a person experiences in everyday life.

Two naturalistic observation studies were conducted in the Red Square of Western Washington University. One study aimed to test which aspects of the task would be affected by divided attention and which would not be. The second study exclusively studied whether talking on cellphones lead to inattentional blindness. This assumption was then based on whether or not participants saw a clown on a unicycle. The purpose of conducting the two separate studies was to be able to analyze these different components of divided attention separately. Participants for both studies, were observed walking through Red Square. According to Hyman (2010), this is “ a complex navigational task” due to that fact that many student activities occur there and most students use the path to get to class. There was a pair of observers stationed at each end of the path. Two observers were used so that multiple individuals could be observed at the same time.

Individuals were observed if they fit into one of four categories (single person without electronic device, a pair of individuals, single person with cellphone, single person with music). Observers were required to observe a person from each category in a specific order. After each observation, an individual who fit into the next category was selected to be observed (Hyman, 2010). Overall, I think the methods they used were useful because each individual was observed doing what they would regularly do while walking. In addition, have the observers follow a specific order prevented bias when selecting participants.

For the first study data was collected on 317 individuals total. Only observations of individuals who did not change category while walking and took the most common path were used in data analysis. The data represented 196 individuals total. Of the total number of individuals observed, 180 were ages 18 to 23, 11 were older and 5 people were not placed in a specific age group. Data on weather, time of day, day of the week, and activities was also recorded. In addition, observers measured how long it took a person to cross, if they collided with someone, changed directions, or engaged with someone passing by (eye contact, facial expressions) (Hyman, 2010).

In the first study, participants who talked on their cellphones and those who walked in pairs took longer to cross the Red Square then the other single individuals. Out of all four categories, cell phone use made changing direction more likely. In addition, individuals with cell phones may have shown inattentional blindness because they were the least likely to engage with other people passing (Hyman, 2010).

The second study involved a total of 151 people and observations occurred for one hour. only. Of the total number of participants, 84 were thought to be 18-23, ten were thought to be older and 2 people were not able to be placed in an age group. Seventy-eight individuals were in the control group (single person, no electronics), 21 were walking in a pair, 28 were playing music and 24 used their cell phones. The unicycling clown was stationed in the middle of the plaza near a sculpture. The clown wore bright clothes and was moving in the direction of the people walking in the square. When participants reached the end of the square they were interviewed to determine whether or not they saw the clown. Participants asked a general question about seeing something unusual. If they did not see the clown then they were directly asked if they saw the clown (Hyman, 2010).

The second study showed that in general, people who used their cellphones were the least likely group to state that they saw the clown. Only 25% of the total cell phone users reported seeing the clown. In contrast, in all other groups at least 50% of the individuals saw the clown. From this data, Hyman and his colleagues conclude that inattentional blindness occurred in at least 75% of the cell phone users tested (Hyman, 2010).

I think that more ages needed to be represented in these studies The majority of the individuals observed were college students. As a result, these samples are not representative of the entire population. In addition, a majority of the data collected and analyzed was objective and depended on how the observers interpreted what they saw. The process of data collection for the second study was also flawed. The data was only collected within a single one hour period. The fact that all the data was collected at the same time of day could affect the results.

I think that the results in this study can be applied to help people who text or talk on the phone while they drive think twice before they do it. If an activity as simple as walking can be affected by talking on the phone it is very likely that a more complex task like driving a car would be affected even more. In addition, we can surmise how much greater the effect would be if someone was texting instead of just talking on the phone. Texting is a much more demanding task. It requires more processing and motor movements. Texting requires even more attention than talking. In the summary of the article, researchers cite another study which found that students feel that because they have a lot of experience using cell phones and driving cars these tasks have become automatic and neither requires a lot of attention (Hyman, 2010). The fact that this study by Hyman and his colleagues takes place on a college campus and that the majority of the participants are college students may help its findings resonate with the students or young adults that feel this way. We have been walking much longer than we’ve been driving. If talking on the phone has an effect on walking, it will definitely have an effect on driving. I think that research in this area could be improved by retrospective data analysis. Data on motor vehicle accidents and their causes may help expand on the results of this research. It may even lend more ideas on which to base studies.

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