Choke That Cellphone User? Wait. Here's Why

Have you ever wanted to kill (oops, contain) someone yakking on their cellphone next to you on the bus?  Had to read the same paragraph over 12 times to get its meaning?  Been unable to work on an assignment your boss needed yesterday?

A new study has found why.   It's because our brains feel the need to fill in the blanks when we only hear one side of a conversation.

According to Douglas Quenqua, "College students who were asked to complete anagrams while a nearby researcher talked on her cellphone were more irritated and distracted — and far more likely to remember the contents of the conversation — than students who worked on the same puzzles while the same conversation was conducted by two people in the room."

As Tyger Latham reports, "According to Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, authors of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us, the reason cell phone conversations are so grating to most of us is because they are in fact "half conversations," in which your brain tries "to predict what the person is going to say next."

The predictable pattern of cellphone users' speech - steady and stable -- makes it impossible for us to screen it out, Latham says. We innately try to make sense of our environments, according to Latham, and something like a one-way conversation "grabs our attention" and makes it hard to tune out

And this very distraction we feel also makes us think people talking on cellphones are abnormally loud, writes Quenqua.  In another study commuters felt others talking on mobile phones were much louder than they really were.  It's the brain again.

Let's face it.  Cellphones are unavoidable and unpleasant, and anything that is so is annoying and irritating makes you want to put a stop to it.  Of course, you can't.

But commuter lines are trying their best.  MetroNorth now has a quiet car where no one is allowed to talk on a cellphone.  It's become very popular.  I just wonder how they fit that many people in one car!


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