STUDY: Cell notifications just as dangerous as texting-and-driving

Notifications just as dangerous as texting and driving

(KFVS) - A new study conducted by students at Florida State University found that cellphone notifications can be just as distracting and dangerous as texting-and-driving.

The research showed that even the simplest notification is comparable to the effects of making phone calls or sending text messages.

Cellphones today offer several types of alerts such as ringtones, text tones as beeps and even vibrations. Researchers at FSU found that the slightest notification was enough to pull people away from given tasks.

"The level of how much it affected the task at hand was really shocking," Courtney Yehnert, a FSU research coordinator that worked on the study in 2014.

"The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Notification" was published in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance."

This is the first study to examine the effects of cellphone notifications on performance. The study's lead author is Cary Stothart and was co-authored by former FSU postdoctoral researcher Ainsley Mitchum and Yenhert.

"Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance," the researchers wrote in the paper. "Cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task."

The study looked at the performance of several participants while doing computer related tasks. Several participants were alerted with automated texts and calls to their cellphones. Another group were left alone. 

The participants that were alerted were three times more likely to make a mistake than those who were not, according to the research. The study showed that receiving a notification and not responding to it is just as distracting as texting and driving.

The FSU study did not involve driving but results indicate problems related to distracted driving.

People have a limited capacity for attention that is split between tasks, according to the researchers. Research shows that people using mobile phones while doing other tasks perform poorer.

Research shows that it would be safer to turn a cellphone off while driving, but many traffic campaigns intended to deter cell use while driving urge drivers to pull over. Researchers found that waiting pulls away from attention and can disrupt tasks.

"Even a slight distraction can have severe, potentially life-threatening effects if that distraction occurs at the wrong time," Stothart said. "When driving, it's impossible to know when 'the wrong time' will occur. Our results suggest that it is safest
for people to mute or turn off their phones and put them out of sight while driving."

The researchers plan to follow this study with another to test cell phone notification distraction while participants are given a driving test on a simulator.

Download the KFVS News app: iPhone | Android

Copyright 2015 KFVS. All rights reserved.