Students With Cell Phones May Take More Risks, Study Finds
Women reported feeling a greater increase in safety carrying a cell phone than did male students, probably because they felt more vulnerable in the first place. As a result, more women than men said that, if they had a cell phone they would be willing to walk somewhere after dark that they would normally not go (42 percent of women vs. 28 percent of men). (Credit: iStockphoto/Radu Razvan)ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2008) — Carrying a cell phone may cause some college students – especially women – to take risks with their safety, a new study suggests. A survey of 305 students at one campus found that 40 percent of cell phone users said they walked somewhere after dark that they normally wouldn’t go.
A separate survey found that about three-quarters of students said that carrying a cell phone while walking alone at night made them feel somewhat or a lot safer.
“Students seem to feel less vulnerable when they carry a cell phone, although there’s not evidence that they really are,” said Jack Nasar, co-author of the study and professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University.
“If anything, they are probably less safe because they are paying less attention to their surroundings.”
Nasar conducted the study with Peter Hecht of Temple University in Philadelphia and Richard Wener of Brooklyn Polytechnic University in New York. Their results were published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
The study involved online or phone interviews with randomly selected students at Ohio State. One sample in 2001 included 317 students and a separate survey one year later included 305 students.
Women reported feeling a greater increase in safety carrying a cell phone than did male students, probably because they felt more vulnerable in the first place, Nasar said.
As a result, more women than men said that, if they had a cell phone they would be willing to walk somewhere after dark that they would normally not go (42 percent of women vs. 28 percent of men).
“Especially for women, cell phones offer a sense of security that may make them more willing to put themselves in risky situations,” Nasar said.
The biggest issue may be that when people are talking on the cell phone, they are not focusing on what is going on around them, according to Nasar. The possibility of crime is not the only problem.
In a separate study, Nasar and his colleagues found that 48 per cent of cell phone users crossed a busy road in front of approaching cars, compared to only 25 per cent of those not using phones.
“We know that cell phones pose a hazard for people when they’re driving, but pedestrians may also be at risk if they are not careful,” he said.
While these students were surveyed in 2001 and 2002, Nasar said the results still apply today, and maybe even more so. Back at that time, fewer college students had cell phones. In the 2001 sample, 38 percent reported they did not have a cell phone. One year later, that was down to 14 percent.
The researchers conducted an independent survey of 100 students at Brooklyn Polytechnic and found similar results, Nasar said, indicating that the findings could apply to a wide variety of students from across the country.
Nasar said the results suggest colleges may want to add to the safety lectures they commonly give to incoming freshmen.
“Students need to be aware of their surroundings when they’re out using their cell phone,” he said. “In some cases, walking with a cell phone might make them vulnerable, either to crime or to an accident.”
Cell phone users should also consider adding emergency numbers to the “speed dial” functions of their phone so it will be easier to summon help if needed.
Adapted from materials provided by Ohio State University. Ohio State University (2008, March 5). Students With Cell Phones May Take More Risks, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/03/080303110149.htm
Just Listening To Cell Phones Significantly Impairs Drivers
ScienceDaily (Mar. 6, 2008) — Carnegie Mellon University scientists have shown that just listening to a cell phone while driving is a significant distraction, and it causes drivers to commit some of the same types of driving errors that can occur under the influence of alcohol.
The use of cell phones, including dialing and texting, has long been a safety concern for drivers. But the Carnegie Mellon study, for the first time, used brain imaging to document that listening alone reduces by 37 percent the amount of brain activity associated with driving. This can cause drivers to weave out of their lane, based on the performance of subjects using a driving simulator.
The findings, to be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Brain Research, show that making cell phones hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating distractions to drivers. "Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel; they also have to keep their brains on the road," said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging.
Other distractions, such as eating, listening to the radio or talking with a passenger, also can divert a driver. Though it is not known how these activities compare to cell phone use, Just said there are reasons to believe cell phones may be especially distracting. "Talking on a cell phone has a special social demand, such that not attending to the cell conversation can be interpreted as rude, insulting behavior," he noted. A passenger, by contrast, is likely to recognize increased demands on the driver's attention and stop talking.
The 29 study volunteers used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. They steered a car along a virtual winding road at a fixed, challenging speed, either while they were undisturbed, or while they were deciding whether a sentence they heard was true or false. Just's team used state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to measure activity in 20,000 brain locations, each about the size of a peppercorn. Measurements were made every second.
The driving-while-listening condition produced a 37 percent decrease in activity of the brain's parietal lobe, which is associated with driving. This portion of the brain integrates sensory information and is critical for spatial sense and navigation. Activity was also reduced in the occipital lobe, which processes visual information.
The other impact of driving-while-listening was a significant deterioration in the quality of driving. Subjects who were listening committed more lane maintenance errors, such as hitting a simulated guardrail, and deviating from the middle of the lane. Both kinds of influences decrease the brain's capacity to drive well, and that decrease can be costly when the margin for error is small.
"The clear implication is that engaging in a demanding conversation could jeopardize judgment and reaction time if an atypical or unusual driving situation arose," Just said. "Heavy traffic is no place for an involved personal or business discussion, let alone texting."
Because driving and listening draw on two different brain networks, scientists had previously suspected that the networks could work independently on each task. But Just said this study demonstrates that there is only so much that the brain can do at one time, no matter how different the two tasks are.
The study emerges from the new field of neuroergonomics, which combines brain science with human-computer interaction studies that measure how well a technology matches human capabilities. Neuroergonomics is beginning to be applied to the operation of vehicles like aircraft, ships and cars in which drivers now have navigation systems, iPods and even DVD players at their disposal. Every additional input to a driver consumes some of his or her brain capacity, taking away some of the resources that monitor for other vehicles, lane markers, obstacles, and sudden changes in conditions.
"Drivers' seats in many vehicles are becoming highly instrumented cockpits," Just said, "and during difficult driving situations, they require the undivided attention of the driver's brain."
The project was funded by the Office of Naval Research. Other members of the research team included post-doctoral research associate Timothy Keller and research assistant Jacquelyn Cynkar.
Adapted from materials provided by Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon University (2008, March 6). Just Listening To Cell Phones Significantly Impairs Drivers, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/03/080305104905.htm