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New Study Suggests Cell Phone-Use Impairs Driving Performance

July 05, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A June 2005 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience confirmed behavioral research on the dangers of using mobile phones while driving. The study was conducted by Steven Yantis, a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in the Johns Hopkins University’s Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences. Though the results of the study can be applied to drivers and their cell phones, this was not directly what the professor and his team studied. Young adults aged 19 to 35 were brought into a neuro-imaging lab and asked to view a computer display while listening to voices over headphones. They watched a rapidly changing display of multiple letters and digits, while listening to three voices speaking letters and digits at the same time. The purpose was to simulate the cluttered visual and auditory input people deal with every day. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Yantis and his team recorded brain activity during each of these tasks. They found that when the subjects directed their attention to visual tasks, the auditory parts of their brain recorded decreased activity, and vice versa. “Our research helps explain why talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance, even when the driver is using a hands-free device,” said Steven Yantis, a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in the Johns Hopkins University’s Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences. “Directing attention to listening effectively ‘turns down the volume’ on input to the visual parts of the brain,” he explained. Results revealed that talking on a cell phone distracts drivers because the brain can’t simultaneously give full attention to both the visual task of driving and the auditory task of listening.
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