Now science supports what you likely already know to be true: Listening to other people talk on their mobile phones is annoying and distracting.
A new study out in the journal PLOS ONE reveals that when subjects attempted to mind their own business while completing a cognitive task, overhearing a telephone conversation robbed them of their attention more than being witness to a two-sided conversation.
"I find cell phones annoying, frankly, and there's lots of research suggesting that many people agree -- so I wanted to study this," said study lead author Veronica Galvan, an assistant professor in the department of psychological sciences with the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of San Diego.
Last year, a separate study conducted by researchers at Cornell University asked subjects to perform a cognitive task while attempting to ignore sound recordings. The result of the study was that one-sided mobile phone conversations were more distracting and irritating than overhearing two-sided in-person conversations.
Building on that research, Galvan and her team had nearly 150 subjects perform a task in which they had to try to solve 30 simple or challenging anagrams (for example, cause=sauce). During the task, actors staged a conversation, either with one person on a mobile phone or two people talking in person.
According to the researchers, people appear to be less able to tune out the mobile phone conversations compared to two-person exchanges. Galvan said it remains unclear as to why this is so.
"We didn't study why cellphone conversations are more distracting," she said. "But there's a lot of research that shows that (mental) multitasking isn't really possible. That your brain actually has to switch back and forth between listening in and doing something else, rather than doing both tasks at the same time.
"And it also could be a question of control," Galvan said. "Bystanders to these conversations lack any control over whether someone in public answers their phone and shares personal information the bystander doesn't really want to hear. And that lack of control could be stressful. Of course that could be true of a two-way conversation too. So we'll need more research to try and figure this out."