Washington, June 3 2009: A new study has found that just the ring of a cell phone may be equally distracting as talking on one, especially when it occurs in a classroom setting or includes a familiar song as a ringtone.
Most surprising, perhaps, the study found that unexpected exposure to snippets of a popular song, often used as ringtones, can have an even-longer-lasting negative impact on attention.
“A distraction that may just seem like a common annoyance to people may have a really disruptive effect on their later retention of that information,” said Jill Shelton, who led the study at Washington University in St. Louis.
The study includes an experiment in which Shelton poses as a student seated in the middle of a crowded undergraduate psychology lecture and allows a cell phone in her handbag to continue ringing loudly for about 30 seconds.
Students exposed to a briefly ringing cell phone scored 25 percent worse on a test of material presented before the distraction.
Students tested later scored about 25 percent worse for recall of course content presented during the distraction, even though the same information was covered by the professor just prior to the phone ring and projected as text in a slide show shown throughout the distraction.
Students scored even worse when Shelton added to the disturbance by frantically searching her handbag as if attempting to find and silence her ringing phone, said a Washington University release.
“Many of us consider a cell phone ringing in a public place to be an annoying disruption, but this study confirms that these nuisance noises also have real-life impacts,” Shelton said. “These seemingly innocuous events are not only a distraction, but they have a real influence on learning.”
These findings were published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.