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Cellphones and Zoomers

Zoomer Report2020-7-16By: Libby Znaimer

Lots of studies have shown it isn’t safe to talk on a cellphone while driving. Now there’s evidence that mobile chatting can also impair your judgment when you’re walking– especially if you’re older.

Research in the journal Psychology and Aging suggests that older adults may be putting themselves at risk if they try crossing a relatively busy street while talking on a cellphone. The study involved adults over 59 and university students. The volunteers were monitored as they crossed a simulated road in a virtual-reality lab.

The older adults, who were in good mental and physical health, handled lighter traffic without much difficulty. But they ran into problems once the pace of traffic picked up. They took significantly longer to cross the intersection when they were engaged in a cellphone conversation, compared to not using the device. In particular, they seemed to have a hard time deciding when to step into the street. And their hesitancy often meant they failed to complete the task in the allotted time of 30 seconds.

The younger participants showed no impairment in their ability to multi-task – or walk and talk at the same time.

But that doesn’t mean young pedestrians are immune to the distractions. Researchers say in an earlier study, they also had difficulty crossing a very busy simulated street.


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