It’s official. Overheard cellphone conversations score high on the distractability scale. And one-sided “halfalogues” are more irritating that listening to two people talking live. OK, maybe you didn’t need a University of San Diego study to confirm what you already know. But isn’t it reassuring to discover you’re not alone in ranking forced eavesdropping incredibly annoying?
What’s more, we perceive one-sided exchanges as louder than they really are, and they’re almost impossible to ignore. Blame it on the brain’s irresistable attraction to anything novel. As psych professor Veronica Galvin, lead researcher on the study, explained to The New York Times, “If you only hear one person speaking, you’re constantly trying to place that part of the conversation in context. That’s naturally going to draw your attention away from whatever you’re doing.” Just try to concentrate on that sales report when the commuter sitting next to you is yelling into her iPhone, “Guess what the doctor said I’ve got? And it’s contagious.”
So what can we do? Other people’s conversations are beyond our control, but we don’t have to contribute to the noise pollution. We can set a positive example by texting instead of talking when we’re anywhere others can overhear.