Unicycling clown shows danger of using cell phones in cars

Legally banning the use of cell phones while driving is slowly being introduced in a number of countries around the world. Just this weekend, law changes in New Zealand came into effect outlawing this practice.

While there is statistical and anecdotal evidence from accidents that show why such a use of cell phones should be banned, there has been remarkably little in the way of scientific support.

Just this week, however, some interesting results have been released from an experiment by Professor of Psychology, Ira Hyman, and his students at Western Washington University. As you will see, you don’t have to be driving to lose awareness of the surrounding environment when on the phone; the effects are noticeable even when doing something as simple as walking:

Hyman and his students also noticed that people on cell phones were less likely to acknowledge others and wondered if they had a harder time walking because they were not as plugged into the world around them.

To test the idea, they came up with a unicycling clown.

So on a spring day in 2008, student Dustin Randall donned his clown suit and rode his unicycle – he just happened to have both – for an hour as part of the second study.

In this second study, the researchers interviewed 151 people and found that:

— 71 percent of the people walking in pairs said they saw the clown.

— 51 percent of people walking by themselves saw him, while 60 percent of those walking alone while listening to a music player saw the clown.

— But just 25 percent of people talking on their cell phones reported noticing a unicycling clown.

“It’s a big difference. It’s a whopping big effect,” Hyman said of what most cell phone users failed to see while doing something as simple as walking.

“That cell phone really disrupts things,” said Ira Hyman, psychology professor.

So much so that 75 percent of the people who were walking and talking on their phones didn’t see the clown – until he was pointed out to them.

It’s all about concentration – humans aren’t too good at doing two things at once. And it also seems that sensory imput from one sense means that there’s not enough processing power left over in the brain to be aware of other external stimuli. Brain needs more RAM!

 Test your own concentration skills in the following clip:


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4 Responses

  1. Oh my. I totally missed the moonwalking bear. I’m so ashamed.

  2. I saw the bear. But I’ve also seen the gruesome results of distracted driving up close, so I probably don’t need any more awareness!

  3. I showed it to a class of Year 11s (15 / 16 year olds, many of whom have drivers licenses).

    Only one of them saw the bear.

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