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Are Cell Phone Conversations More Distracting than Normal Conversations?

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Author: Barry Eitel

Grade Level: 9th to 12th; Type: Social Science

Objective:

This experiment will explore how listening in to a one-sided conversation affects concentration.

Research Questions:

  • Does listening to someone talking on a cell phone (a one-sided conversation) ruin concentration more than listening to other things?
  • Would concentration be improved by hearing an entire conversation versus half of it?

One of the most annoying aspects of modern day life is being sucked into a stranger’s cell phone conversation. There is evidence to suggest that hearing only one side of a conversation is worse for concentration than hearing the whole thing.

Materials:

  • 100 volunteers
  • Private room
  • Stereo
  • 100 copies of a simple test, like multiplication tables
  • Basic recording equipment
  • Album of classical music
  • Notepad

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Record a monologue. Have a friend or you read part of a book, newspaper or monologue from a play for several minutes. Try to keep the content as mundane and everyday as possible.
  2. Record several minutes of dialogue. Use a play or book, or write up your own conversation. Either read it with a friend, or use two other friends to read. Again, keep the content somewhat boring. Narrative, plot, and humor isn’t important.
  3. Record a “halfalogue.” Using the same dialogue as in Step 2, have the performer read only one character’s lines. They should pause briefly where the other character speaks.
  4. Bring twenty volunteers into a room (either as a group or one-by-one). Let them take the simple test in silence. Collect the tests and thank them for their time. This is your control group.
  5. Bring twenty more volunteers into the room. Play the classical music on the stereo. The volume should be loud, but not painful or completely overwhelming. Give these volunteers the test. Again, collect the tests and thank them for their time when they are done.
  6. Repeat Step 5 for the other three groups of twenty volunteers, except play the monologue for one group, the dialogue for another, and the “halfalogue” for the third.
  7. Score the tests. Which group did the best?

Terms/Concepts: distraction, cell phones, halfalogue, psychology, social science

Reference: Some information on a similar experiment

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