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    Cell Phone Ringtones Affect Memory

    By Margarita Nahapetyan

    According to a new psychological study, just the ring of a cellular phone in some circumstances is enough to pose a dangerous distraction for people, especially in classrooms when students hear a familiar melody as a ringtone.

    "In any setting where people are trying to acquire knowledge and trying to retain that information in some way, a distraction that may just seem like a common annoyance to people may have a really disruptive effect on their later retention of that information," said a lead investigator of the study, Jill Shelton, a postdoctoral psychology fellow in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Jill Shelton and her colleagues carried out an experiment when the expert herself posed as a student in a crowded undergraduate psychology lecture hall where she allowed her mobile phone to ring in her handbag for half a minute. Later, Shelton analyzed student scores on content that was presented during the lecture and found that they were significantly lower when compared to the cases where the phone was not distracting the attention of students.

    Participants who have been tested later, demonstrated the scores nearly 25 per cent worse for recollection of the course material presented during the distraction, in spite of the fact that the professor covered the same information just before the ringing of the phone, and projected as text in a slide show presented during the distraction. The study revealed that students' scores were even worse when Jill Shelton contributed to the disturbance by simply pretending to looking for her handbag in an attempt to find and put on silence her continuously ringing phone. According to her paper, there was no difference observed if the same content was introduced a second time before or after the phone interruption - the disturbance still damaged the students' ability to recall the material at a later time.

    According to Shelton, the majority of people consider a cell phone ringing in a public place to be quite an annoying disruption, but the findings of this study confirm that these disturbing noises also can have negative real-life impacts. "These seemingly innocuous events are not only a distraction, but they have a real influence on learning," the expert added.

    The investigators concluded that unexpected exposure to familiar melody or a popular song, such as those that many individuals now often set as ringtones, can have an even worse, longer-lasting impact on a person's ability to concentrate. The experts also discovered that people who were warned beforehand that there could be a disturbance, were able to recover better afterwards and recall all necessary data. However, they say that more research on the matter is needed in order to find out a lot more about the nuisance value of cellular phones. Therefore, individuals who set popular songs as a personal ringtone may be increasing the odds that their mobile phone rings are going to be more distracting.

    Titled "The distracting effects of a ringing cell phone: An investigation of the laboratory and the classroom setting," the research was carried out at Louisiana State University. The findings are reported in the last issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

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