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Mere Presence of a Cell Phone Distracting Says USM Professor

Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners are right around the corner and families are already talking about how to handle cell phone use at the table. Dinner hosts feel cell phones at the table are a distraction to conversation, and, according to a soon-to-be-published article in the journal Social Psychology, written by a University of Southern Maine Psychology Professor Bill Thornton, they are absolutely right.

Thornton’s paper, written with his students Alyson Faires, Maija Robbins, and Eric Rollins, “The Mere Presence of a Cell Phone May be Distracting,” will appear in Social Psychology this month. The article explains recent research demonstrating that even the presence of a cell phone can be distracting enough to affect the performance of tasks, with the detrimental effects increasing as the tasks become more complex.

Researchers compared performance between groups who had cell phones nearby or notebooks, with the cell phone group showing attention and task deficits.

Yes, smartphones help us communicate as we have never before been able to — keeping up to date with old and new friends. Texting, sending photos, checking email, Facebook, and Twitter are now all in the palm of our hand. However, researchers suspect that when we communicate with those in our presence, wondering what all those contacts on our phones are doing distracts us from communicating well face to face.

So, the next time you think you can keep track of all the conversations taking place at a holiday dinner table with your cell phone nearby, don’t count on it.