Tag: inattention blindness

Did You See That? A Cell Phone Distracted World

cell-phone-userQuick, where is your cell phone? A pretty accurate guess for most readers is your cell phone is within arm’s reach, if not in your pocket or your hands. It probably has at least some portion of your attention right now, even as you’re reading this.

With the average person checking their phone 150 times a day, it’s clear that cell phones are ingrained in human behavior. The changes cell phones have made in daily lives has lead to a new, growing safety concern in the form of distracted walking.

Attention (the ability to concentrate on an activity for a prolonged period of time without getting distracted) is shrinking at an alarming rate, resulting in many unintentional injuries. From 2010 to 2011, there were more than 11,000 injuries due to distracted walking! Fifty-two percent of distracted walking injuries occur at home, with 54 percent to people 40 and younger, and nearly 80 percent of these injuries are due to falls. Instead of paying attention to where we are and what we’re doing, we’re trying to multitask and paying the price for it. Need more proof? Watch this video:

The human brain was not designed for divided attention (completing two tasks requiring the same concentration at the same time). When a cell phone user tries to walk at the same time, they’re missing out on significant cues, ultimately walking off course, stepping into traffic, or missing out on what’s going on around them. In a study conducted at Western Washington University, approximately 75 percent of cell phone users suffered from inattention blindness, failing to notice an out of place unicylcing clown in the square where they were walking. Just as inattention blindness contributes to vehicle collisions, it has also contributed to the rise in unintentional injuries from distracted walking.

To fix a safety issue, the typical steps are identifying the hazard and then:

  1. Eliminate the hazard when possible,
  2. Guard against hazards that cannot be eliminated
  3. Warn for hazards that can’t be eliminated or guarded against
  4. Change human behavior when there are no other options.

The hazard of distracted walking poses problems for the traditional eliminate, guard, and warn against options. Cell phones cannot be eliminated from every day life. Options to guard against the dangers of distracted walking are limited. Some restaurants are knocking out cell phone coverage to increase social interaction and minimize distractions but it is not a viable solution for public streets. Warnings can be sent via text/pop up messages but with distracted attention on cell phones, most will not be noticed or will be ignored.

This leaves us with the only, last option, to change human behavior. This is the least effective and slowest moving option for safety. Just look how long it took for regular seat belt usage to be the normal! Teaching ourselves to stop texting, tweeting, sharing, posting, and searching the internet while walking is going to a long, drawn out road. Abraham Lincoln couldn’t foresee the cell phone issue but he recognized human nature. “Human action can be modified to some extent but human nature cannot be changed,” Lincoln said.

Listen in as Kevin King discusses the issue of distracted walking and how it relates to our safety on People’s Law Talk.

It’s a newer, twenty-first century problem, but the statistics and facts on the distractions of cell phones, including the distracted walking hazard, are already rolling in. Check out these resources for more details on the issue:

Want to hear more talks from Peter and Kevin King? Tune into WCIS 1010 AM Columbus, IN the first and third Friday of every month for People’s Law Talk.

Pay Attention, If You Can

man on phone drivingHow many tasks are you performing right now? You probably have your phone in your hand checking email or waiting on a text. Maybe your television is on in the background waiting for the news report to begin. Then of course, you’re trying to read this blog. All the while your brain is trying, but failing, to multitask.

Stop. Put down the phone. Turn off the television. Close those other windows on your desktop. Give us five minutes of your undivided attention. You’ll see in a minute why it’s so important.

Understanding attention limits of humans is an important factor in the design of products and systems. Persons do not perform well when trying to perform two attention demanding tasks at the same time.

For example, during two cognitively complex tasks, such as driving and talking on the phone, the brain shifts its focus and people develop “inattention blindness.” Inattention blindness is a tendency to look at but not see objects. It is estimated that drivers using cell phones, including through hands free means, look but fail to see up to 50 percent of information in their driving environment.

According to the National Safety Council, the brain engages in a constant process to deal with information it receives by selecting the information the brain will attend to, processing the information, encoding the information (a stage that creates memory,) storing the information, retrieving the stored information, and then executing upon the information. When the brain is overloaded all of these steps are affected. However, people do not realize this challenge is occurring within their brains.

When persons maintain they can multitask, they do not understand how the brain processes information for decision-making. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially switching between one task and another. When brains juggle tasks rapidly, it leads to the erroneous conclusion that people are able to do two tasks at the same time. In reality, the brain is switching attention between the tasks performing only one task at a time.

Designers of products and systems need to understand limitations of humans attention and design systems to eliminate or minimize human error due to humans limitations regarding attention; after all, to err is human, design forgives.

For more information on human attention capabilities we recommend downloading “Understanding the Distracted Brain,” from the National Safety Council.