Young teens involved in an unusual interactive research were more prone to suffer a virtual accident if they talked on the telephone while they walked across a busy road, study has shown.
Preteens arent the best street-crossers to begin with, researchers said. But in the study, speaking on the telephone increased the chances of being hit or almost struck by a computer vehicle from 8.5 to 12 percent, a 43 % spike in risk.
The study was published in the February copy of the journal Pediatrics. The research comes on on the tails of several others that have shown that talking on the phone takes a toll on the attention and visual processing skills of drivers, and may increase the risk of an automobile accident four-fold.
Crossing the street is very difficult, if you stop and think about it, said an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Children younger than 13 years aren’t capable of doing it as well, he said, when talking on the phone.
Dr. Schwebel and his colleagues placed 77 preteens in a virtual reality environment that impersonated an intersection, standing across the street from a school with cars passing by in both directions. Those doing the study asked the 10- and 11-year-olds to figure out when it would be ok to cross. The children stepped off a platform relative the dimensions of a curb when they thought it was fine.
Each child did a dozen virtual road crossings, half while speaking on the telephone. About half of the children were conversing during their first six crossings, while the other half answered calls during the second six crossings.
Even though performance got better with time and practice, the psychologists found, the cell phone conversations distracted the children, making them less attentive to traffic. While on the phone, they more often hesitated before leaving the virtual sidewalk and left themselves too little time before another vehicle drove by, leading to more close calls and more accidents.
The computer world did not impersonate life in one crucial way: it didnt allow for children to pick up the pace and run across the roadway, nor could a car slam on the brakes or swerve to avoid hitting the children, Dr. Schwebel said.
On the other hand, using a telephone wasn’t new to any of the children, Dr. Schwebel noted. All of them had used the phone before.
If you’re a parent, you should probably tell your kids not to be texting or having a conversation on the phone, or listening to an mp3 player for that matter, when walking across a street, said David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and an expert on phone safety.
This is relative to what weve learned about how the mind works when people are driving, Dr. Strayer added. You definitely need your mind to navigate through the world, whether you’re snowboarding or driving or walking.
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