This is your brain on a cell phone - it's distracted

| Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Yet another study has found that using cell phones while driving can distract drivers, regardless of whether they’re using a hands-free device.

The human brain can’t simultaneously give full attention to both auditory and visual tasks, according to research by Steven Yantis, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He released his study Tuesday, June 21.

Yantis tested adults age 19 to 35 by having them watch images on a computer display while listening to voices on headphones. The subjects’ brains were then analyzed using a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging to test activity in the different nodes of the brain.

“Our research helps explain why talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance, even when the driver is using a hands-free device,” Yantis said in a press release. “When attention is deployed to one modality – say, in this case, talking on the cell phone – it necessarily extracts a cost on another modality – in this case, the visual task of driving.

In other words, if you’re on the phone, you’re brain can’t devote as much attention to driving.

Yantis said he hopes this research can have real-life applications in other areas of concentration and brain function, such as airline cockpits and the study and treatment of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

The report comes just a few weeks after a similar study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which used a driving simulator to find the differences between phone and hands-free operation. The study found that the added dialing time and technical confusions of voice dialing offset any benefits the headsets may give to drivers.

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