The Psychology Behind Why Cell Phone Talkers Are So Annoying

Overhearing half a conversation is inherently jarring, a study finds, and it has implications for safety while behind the wheel.

From the not-exactly-earth-shattering department comes a new report attempting to explain why public cell phone talkers are so annoying:
Cellphone users irritate so mightily because their background chatter forcibly yanks listeners’ attention away from whatever they’re doing, says psychology graduate student Lauren Emberson of Cornell University. Overhearing someone spewing intermittent exclamations into a handheld gadget lacks the predictability of hearing a two-way exchange and thus proves inherently unsettling, Emberson and her colleagues report in an upcoming Psychological Science. That makes it harder to focus on one’s own immediate business, be it reading a book, contemplating a work presentation or driving a car, the researchers propose.

We know that operating a cell phone while driving is risky business, but apparently overhearing a passenger's call could be just as distracting. Emberson will look into further research with a driving simulator.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user Mike "Dakinewavamon" Kline