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Telephone conversation impairs sustained visual attention via a central bottleneck

By Melina A. Kunar, Randall Carter, Michael Cohen and Todd S. Horowitz


Recent research has shown that holding telephone conversations disrupts one's driving ability. We asked whether this effect could be attributed to a visual attention impairment. In Experiment 1, participants conversed on a telephone or listened to a narrative while engaged in multiple object tracking (MOT), a task requiring sustained visual attention. We found that MOT was disrupted in the telephone conversation condition, relative to single-task MOT performance, but that listening to a narrative had no effect. In Experiment 2, we asked which component of conversation might be interfering with MOT performance. We replicated the conversation and single-task conditions of Experiment 1 and added two conditions in which participants heard a sequence of words over a telephone. In the shadowing condition, participants simply repeated each word in the sequence. In the generation condition, participants were asked to generate a new word based on each word in the sequence. Word generation interfered with MOT performance, but shadowing did not. The data indicate that telephone conversation disrupts attention at a central stage, the act of generating verbal stimuli, rather than at a peripheral stage, such as listening or speaking. \ud \u

Topics: BF
Publisher: Psychonomic Society, Inc.
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:

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