April is Cell Phone Distraction Month

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April is Cell Phone Distraction Awareness Month. Scholars, researchers, psychologists, attorneys, counselors and others are asked make efforts to advise the public about the realities of cell phone distraction, explains Dr. Theodore S. (Scott) Smith from the University of Louisiana Lafayette.

Dr. Smith is Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department and leads research in his lab, The Louisiana Applied and Developmental Psychological Sciences Laboratory, where he is interested in how cell phone distraction affects the learning process, not only in the classroom. He also looks at how applicable distractions may affect driving behaviors and eyewitness memory. Smith has authored Cell Phone Distraction, Human Factors, and Litigation, published by Judges and Lawyers Publishing and which is becoming a popular resource for legal professionals.

The impact of cell phone distraction while driving is emphasized each year in April by the National Safety Council (NSC). The NSC says that the first time since the Great Recession, the U.S. has experienced three straight years of at least 40,000 roadway deaths. This is a 14 percent increase from 2014. Overall, this escalation of roadway injuries is the most dramatic seen in 53 years, said the Council.

Every day at least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted driving crashes, according to the Council. Cell phones, dashboard touchscreens, voice commands and other in-vehicle technologies pose a threat to people’s safety. An NSC survey of the risky things drivers do while on the highway, found that 47 percent of people either text manually or work through voice controls, while driving.

Louisiana State University cognitive psychologist Dr. Melissa Beck also conducts research for “inattention blindness” that affects us when we are driving. Working with simulators at the Civil Engineering Department, Beck and her associates have published results of her studies in this area. She directs the Beck Visual Cognition Lab at Louisiana State University Psychology Department, where she and her researchers uncover the ways that visual attention and memory work or don’t work in various situations.

For Cell Phone Distraction Month, Dr. Smith also explained the serious issues of cell phone distraction in education. “While much emphasis has been placed on cell phone distraction and driving,” Smith said, “it is recognized that cell phone distraction affects both young and older students in the classroom.”

Technology has been advantageous to education since students can respond quickly through online formats, collaborate in real time regarding homework, and obtain references instantly, says Smith. But there are many issues now recognized.

“The assumption that students may disengage from their cell phones when entering a classroom is incorrect. Often students will utilize your cell phones in order to text,
resending receiving emails, and other tasks during classes. Multiple studies have indicated that as many as 90 to 95% of college students use their phones to send text messages during class on a constant basis,” Dr. Smith said.

“An effort to reduce or eliminate cell phone use in the classroom and at high school or college level has been difficult. Often students become physically and emotionally attached to their phones, perhaps reflective of addiction, and find themselves very socially awkward and fervently uncomfortable when they do not have their cell phones in their physical presence.”

“Another argument against technology in the classroom evolves around the discomfort that students have when other students are using their cell phones. Some student report being uncomfortable listening to a lecture when other students are texting or performing other activities not related to learning,” said Smith.

At the same time, Dr. Smith points out that there are numerous arguments in favor of technology in the class. “It’s been recommended that teachers may incorporate social media in daily teaching lessons, use clickers to quiz students during lecture, and encourage students to identify resources online during lecture, as opposed to having stagnant lectures limited to verbal talks.”

“Indeed, the argument for and against technology in the classroom will be ongoing.”

Finally, Dr. Smith reminds everyone to remember the potential harm related to cell phone distraction and driving. “This research has consistently indicated drivers pull their attention away from road conditions while driving, further prompting unsafe practices.”

He hopes that readers will consider the wide range impact of technology on their daily lives, including education and performance of daily tasks such as driving.

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