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Listening While Driving Is, What'd Ya Say?

A study in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review finds that not only does talking interfere with driving skills, the act of driving makes listening a much harder task. Karen Hopkin reports

We all know that talking on a cell phone can impair our ability to drive (although too many of us do it anyway). Now a study in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review shows that the reverse is also true: driving makes it hard to keep track of what we’re talking about.

Previous studies had found that motorists are able to converse just fine. But to Gary Dell of the University of Illinois that finding just didn’t make sense. Because comprehending speech requires attention, as does steering the family sedan. So Dell did a study in a driving simulator.

Ninety-six participants were paired up, with one taking the wheel while the other sat in the passenger seat or talked to the driver on a hands-free phone. Each participant listened to and was asked to repeat a handful of stories, and then to remember them after getting out of the car. As you can imagine, the drivers had a tougher time recalling the details than the passengers. And their conversational skills took the biggest nosedive while they were trying to navigate intersections or handle traffic.

Next, maybe the scientists will determine whether driving also impairs our ability to sing, eat breakfast, and put on makeup. And, of course, text.

—Karen Hopkin

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