Be kind: text, don’t call

Do you often have the urge to chat with a friend while stuck on a train, subway or waiting on a never-ending line? In a new study, researchers from Cornell University are saying you should resist the urge to dial as it irritates and distracts all the people around you - yes, even if you whisper.

For those stuck by a "chatty Kathy," feeling frustrated and annoyed with the distraction, well, that is completely normal according to Michael Goldstein, assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University and Lauren Emberson, PhD candidate in psychology at Cornell University in their research to be published in the June edition of the journal Psychological Science.

Eavesdropping cannot be avoided and someone else's very important minutia or hot gossip becomes an irritant - not because the person is loud but rather because only half the conversation or "halfalogue," can be heard and understood. This rattles the brain coupled with the inability to ignore the chatter.

Apparently even your meditation mantra won't do the trick to block it out. Emberson explained, "Hearing half a conversation is distracting because we are unable to predict the succession of speech. We believe this finding helps reveal how we understand language in conversation: We actively predict what the person is going to say next and this reduces the difficulty of language comprehension."

"People are often more irritated by nearby cell phone conversations rather than conversations between two people who are physically present. Since halfalogues really are more distracting and you can't tune them out, this could explain why people are irritated."

So be kind; text instead of calling, or read, take photos, play a game, surf the web, catchup on emails - there are so many ways to keep yourself distracted with your smartphone's applications that you do not need to distract everyone in your vicinity.

Also the findings from the Interphone study, a multi-center international control case study, were published in the advance online edition of International Journal of Epidemiology on May 17. The researchers concluded that there is not enough conclusive research to support that cell phone use causes or doesn't cause brain cancer - so may as well err on the side of caution since the participants of the study were not classified as long-term heavy-use mobile phone users.

Full study, "Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Speech is More Distracting," to be published in June but could also be available online via Psychological Science's OnlineFirst on May 25: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/recent
Full study, "Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study": http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/dyq079v1

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