Overhearing mobile phones can be really annoying, but is it really just because they’re a bit loud? This research is for all the victims of publically performed halfalogues, may you now rest in peace.
I’m sat on the London to York train overhearing 3 people’s mobile phone conversations simultaneously … and I’m in the quiet coach! As I become more and more sucked in I wonder why it’s so annoying, it’s half the noise of a regular conversation yet twice as irritating.
Aha I remember, I already know the answer!
Being Lucky enough to have studied at the University of York, this department has researched this very question! Research shows that even when kept at the same volume, overhearing a mobile conversation is rated as more annoying than a face to face one. So York theorised that it’s more annoying because to follow a mobile conversation (or ‘halfalogue’)' you have to mentally reconstruct the unheard side of the conversation. It’s this extra distracting effort that is annoying, Apparently.
I was skeptical so I decided to be the first person to put it to the test.
A friend and I descended on 100’s of unsuspecting patients at a doctor’s waiting room in Bury, Manchester. We figured that in order to test whether the annoyance was due to people following the content, we did half the conversations in a foreign language. People definitely couldn’t follow the content of a Chinese conversation, so we took two Chinese students with us as well.
The students would act out conversations in their respective languages and then leave the room. An experimenter would then approach the participant and ask a series of questions on their experience.
It turns out people aren’t bothered about overhearing Chinese conversations. It also rings true that people are much more annoyed by English mobile than English face to face. This suggests that the theory is correct and people do follow the conversation!
So skepticism gone, we now explored different types of conversations. Perhaps it’s what people say or the way they say it that’s important? We began to act out normal and rather mundane conversations and compare them to intriguing and exciting conversations. We went from talking about our plans for dinner to the details of one lottery winners extra marital affairs. Gobsmackingly, annoyance levels for intriguing conversations dropped and they actually reported feeling quite interested in what they overheard.
So in conclusion we can tell that overhearing a mobile is annoying because we have to reconstruct the unheard side of the conversation. But we also know that it’s only annoying when it’s dull and uneventful conversation.
And what are the useful applications of this research you say? I believe that there needs to be a change in signage.