Pres.:Science for Life, the radio programme which is always first with the big Science and Technology stories. Today’s big story is about “cell phones”. How many working cell phones are there today in Europe? How many mobile phones are there in the whole world? How many cell phone addicts are there who can’t stand being away from their mobiles? And how many cell phone users shout their conversations in trains, supermarkets, museums, stations or parks. Are you one of them? If so, how do you think other people feel when you are speaking on your mobile, for example, in your morning train to college? Dr Bret is with us today to help us understand how people react to cell phones.
Pres.: Good afternoon, Dr. Bret and welcome to our weekly programme “Science for Life” .
DB: It’s a pleasure.
Pres.: Dr Bret is a Psychologist at the University of York in the UK. Doctor, do cell phones get on your nerves?
DB: Yes, they do and I guess they also annoy you and the majority of your audience. Am I right?
Pres.: Well. Personally I love using my mobile, but I also find it very irritating when other people use them. But is it really the same for everybody? Is this a general feeling?
DB: This is precisely the question we asked ourselves when we observed that many people, including cell phone users, reacted in similar ways when exposed to cell phone conversations in a variety of situations.
Pres.: So …
DB: So we designed an experiment to try and answer the question.
Pres.: An experiment? What did it consist of?
DB: It was a simple experiment. We wrote a one-minute conversation about a holiday and a surprise party. Then we asked two female actors to memorize and rehearse the script. They rehearsed and rehearsed until they felt comfortable with it. During their rehearsals we made sure that they could control their voices…err basically they had to be capable of maintaining a consistent volume in their conversation.
Pres.: Then …
DB: Then, when their performance was regular we placed the actors in either the waiting room of a bus station or on a train travelling between the cities of York and Sheffield. In these places they acted out their conversation in two different ways.
Pres.: Which ways?
DB: We called them “”face-to-face condition” and “mobile phone condition”. In the “face-to-face condition,” both actors carried out their conversation in the presence of a passenger. In the “mobile phone condition,” only one actor sat near the passenger and pretended to be speaking on her phone.
Pres.: So, in the face-to-face condition, the passenger saw and heard both people involved with the conversation, while in the mobile phone condition, the passenger saw and heard only one side of the conversation. Right?
DB: Yes. Perfect. We repeated the procedure a number of times.
Pres.: What happened next?
DB: After the conversations, one of the actors approached the subjects and told them that she was conducting an experiment. Then, she asked the different passengers if they could answer some questions about the conversation.
Pres.: What sort of questions?
DB: We asked them whether they had noticed the conversation or not. What they remembered from the conversation and how annoying they had found the conversation, things like that..
Pres.: What did the passengers answer? What did you find out?
DB: We found that the cell phone conversations were more noticeable. They sort of made people feel as if they couldn’t stop listening to them. Also, compared to face-to-face conversations, the subjects felt as if the cell phone conversations were more irritating.
Pres.: Interesting! Did you find any differences between the conversations in the bus station and on the train?
DB: As a matter of fact we did. The most “intrusive” type of conversation was a loud cell phone conversation on a train.
Pres.: So, if I understood well, your results confirm that listening to a person speaking on her mobile is more annoying than listening to two people talking face-to-face.
DB: That’s right.
Pres.: But why? Have you got an explanation for that?
DB: Err. Our guess is that this annoyance is caused by hearing only one side of the cell phone conversation ..
Pres.: Mmm, only one side … instead of the whole conversation …
DB: Yeah. It’s possible that hearing only one person in the conversation alters the attention of the listener. But this is just a guess, you know. Now we are working on a new experiment to test this hypothesis…
Pres.: Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Do you promise to come back to our programme and tell us the results when you complete this new experiment?
DB: Of course I’d love to.
Pres.: Thank you very much and we go now to our photo-mobile contest …(fading)