Phone users miss the wheels of a clown

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Cellphone users are so dozy, they can't even spot a unicycling clown.

People talking on their phones are more than twice as oblivious as others, according to a study conducted by Western Washington University Psychology Professor Ira Hyman.

In his research, Hyman documented real-world examples of people who were so distracted by their cellphones that they failed to see the bizarre occurrence of a unicycling clown passing them as they walked.

“If people experience so much difficulty performing the task of walking when on a cellphone, just think of what this means when put into the context of driving safety,” Hyman said. “People should not drive while talking on a cellphone.”

In Hyman’s study, just 25 percent of people talking on their cellphones saw the unicycling clown, whereas more than half of people walking alone, people listening to portable music players and people walking in pairs saw the clown.

“Cellphone use causes people to be oblivious to their surroundings while engaged in even a simple task such as walking,” Hyman said. “Cell phone users walk more slowly, change directions and weave more often and fail to notice interesting and novel objects. The effect appears to be caused by the distraction of a cell phone conversation, because people walking in pairs did not display the same range of problems.”

It didn't even make a difference whether or not the people walking were familiar with their environment.

The study is published in an upcoming issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology.