Let me set the scene for you. It’s Monday night. I just got home from working out. I have some watermelon in front of me and the Bachelor (or ette…idk what it is called…show where someone dates a bunch of people and ends up with an engagement ring and tabloid covers of the messy split a few weeks later). So I’m settling in for one of my guilty pleasures and a commercial comes on for the newest in car innovation. It’s a car that will read you your emails while you are driving.
Cue the groans and excessive face palms. (Don’t these people read research, ever!?!?!?) And then cue the groans and eye rolls that I’m actually using something from my Cognition in the Workplace class…which was the section of my comprehensive exams in grad school that I almost hyperventilated during. Cue pulling out the midterm study guide to locate research…
It’s not that we need cars to do these things for us, it’s that we need to just put the cell phone and emails away and down when we are driving on concentrate on driving. There was research done with people who were using their cellphone and talking versus people who were using a hands-free headset and talking on their cellphone and they were both just as distracted because it’s not just the problem of having a phone in your hand and having one less hand to drive with. The problem lies in the fact of the conversation that is happening. Your brain is using it’s functions to concentrate on the conversation and therefore has less availability to pay attention to the task of driving (and being safe). (Just for FYI purposes, the same study was done of cellphone convo vs. in person convo i.e. passenger and it was found that in that situation talking to a person in your vehicle is not as distracting because they are also able to kind of help you “drive” like if traffic starts getting bad they recognize that and are able to help out). This experiment was done by Strayer and Johnston, Driven to Distraction.
I’m not sure how the email vs. conversation research would go, but I would hypothesize that most people that are having their emails read aloud to them are likely people who have “more important” emails that are going to take up attention in their brain and leave less attention for driving.
The concept we are specifically analyzing is divided attention. You only have so many resources to allocate to specific things and you only have so much of a cognition budget to do those things. When you have a cell phone conversation and you are driving, the problem lies in the fact that you have interference with your task general resources.
So it isn’t about developing new and better technology for cars to be able to read your emails or do hands-free conversations, that isn’t where the problem lies. The problem lies with our inability to just put the phone down and concentrate on task at hand.