1 Comment »Posted on Tuesday 20 October 2009 at 4:49 pm by Colin Stuart
In Psychology

Scientists have found that talking on your mobile phone can be so distracting that phone users walking across a university campus couldn’t walk in a straight line and some even failed to spot a unicycling clown.

The study, conducted by Professor Ira Hyman and published in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, was split into two parts. In the first stage 196 pedestrians were tracked as they walked across the campus and of those taking a call, Hyman noted that they tended to walk:

“…more slowly, changed direction more often, were prone to weaving, and acknowledged other individuals more rarely.”


This is something I am sure most of us can relate to. Living in London it is commonplace when walking down the street to have to avoid someone on their phone weaving in and out of the busy throngs of the capital.

However, it is the second part of the study that is perhaps most noteworthy. In a further experiment the team monitored 151 individuals as they strolled across the square whilst a clown in a bright purple shirt, big shoes and red nose unicycled nearby.

Of the 24 individuals who were on mobile phones at the time, only a quarter of them recalled anything when they were asked, “did you see anything usual?” It is worth saying that, more disturbingly, only just over 50% of those not on a mobile phone noticed the presence of the clown.

When questioned only 25% of pedestrians on mobile phones could spot the unicycling clown. Credit: Slapstick Science.
When questioned only 25% of pedestrians on mobile phones could spot the unicycling clown. Credit: Slapstick Science.

Interestingly those that were most likely to remember spotting the clown were those walking in pairs (71%) suggesting it is not conversation that is distracting but the use of the phone itself.

If phones have this effect on walking this study should add to the weight of evidence suggesting that mobile phone shouldn’t be used whilst driving, as Prof Hyman himself says:

“If people experience so much difficulty performing the task of walking when on a cell phone just think of what this means when put into the context of driving safety. People should not drive while talking on a cell phone.”


  1. One Comment

  2. Maybe those walking in pairs were reassured of their sanity when they both saw they clown, while those alone and on their phone didn’t mention it for fear of being called a loony!

    By Jacob Aron on Tuesday 20 October, 2009 at 5:03 pm

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