Clown? What clown?

A clown pedalling on a unicycle around a statue would make heads turn, wouldn’t it? And yet, it seems that’s not flashy enough to catch the attention of most pedestrians talking on a cell phone. If you still believe that cell phones have no effect on concentration, read on – you just might change your mind!

A clown pedalling on a unicycle around a statue would make heads turn, wouldn’t it? And yet, it seems that’s not flashy enough to catch the attention of most pedestrians talking on a cell phone. If you still believe that cell phones have no effect on concentration, read on – you just might change your mind!

In the first part of their study, researchers watched approximately 200 individuals walking across the public square of a university campus. Compared to people walking alone without a phone, walking in pairs or listening to an MP3-type player, cell phone users walked more slowly, weaved more and were less likely to nod or wave to others. In addition, individuals on a cell phone took an average of 83 seconds to cross the square, while those without any electronic device crossed in about 75 seconds and those listening to music took 74 seconds.

In the second part of their study, the observers questioned about 150 students who had crossed the square and passed by a clown pedalling a unicycle around a large sculpture. They were first asked if they had noticed anything unusual. If respondents said they hadn’t, observers then asked specifically if they had seen the unicycling clown. The result? Even when asked directly about the clown, cell phone users were half as likely to notice the clown as the other groups. Only a quarter of cell phone users had noticed the clown, while more than half of the other pedestrians had noticed him.

It seems that cell phone users suffer from “inattentional blindness”: their eyes are open, but since their minds are focused on the conversation, they don’t “see” their surroundings.

Past research has shown that driving while using a handheld cell phone can be as dangerous as drunk driving. For example, cell phone users tend to weave in their lanes and are more likely to miss a turn. This is why the use of handheld cell phones has been banned while driving. However, several studies suggest that hands-free phones do not solve the problem.

People walking or cycling should also use caution when it comes to texting or talking on a cell phone: for pedestrians, that clown could just as well have been a car bearing down on them!

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