It’s official. The miserable creatures who sit down next to you in public places and yap on their cell phones nonstop really are annoying. According to a study soon to appear in the journal Psychological Science, people are irritated by cell phone conversations because it’s hard to tune them out. It’s good to know I’m not unreasonably grumpy after all. In the words of lead author Lauren Emberson of Cornell,
Hearing half a conversation is distracting because we are unable to predict the succession of speech… We believe this finding helps reveal how we understand language in conversation: We actively predict what the person is going to say next and this reduces the difficulty of language comprehension.
People are often more irritated by nearby cell phone conversations rather than conversations between two people who are physically present. Since halfalogues really are more distracting and you can’t tune them out, this could explain why people are irritated.
In all fairness, the authors of “Pearls before Swine,” should be given priority for this discovery. In a previous study of annoying people that appeared in their comic strip some years ago, they included Fred, the guy who “makes unnecessary personal calls on his cell phone while in public places,” right up there with Myrna, who “obliviously blocks a whole grocery aisle with her shopping cart while looking for her favorite cake mix,” and Dirk, the guy who “reclines his airline seat all the way back and crushes the knees of whoever sits behind him,” in their “Box o’ Stupid People.” It’s true their strip isn’t peer reviewed, but it will likely be more heavily cited than the Psychological Science paper.