One-Sided Conversations Shown to Decrease Cognitive Function

People who experience difficulty with concentration and focus may feel that some inherent aspect of their personality or make-up is responsible for the concern, but there are certain psychological elements involved that typically hold the keys to greater focus–and that may explain why people in some situations find themselves unable to perform to expectation. Interestingly, one of the most common experiences in modern life today, that of hearing a conversation of someone on a cell phone, may be a major factor in attention and cognitive ability. a recent study performed at Cornell University has taken a look at the impact of one-sided conversations on the ability to function cognitively, an investigation which may have important implications for many focus-based tasks, especially driving.

The study worked with a group of participants who were asked to perform basic cognitive tasks while in the presence of either a one-sided or a complete conversation. The one-sided conversation was meant to mimic the experience of being near someone on the telephone, an experience that has become increasingly common as more people adapt to modern technological lifestyles. The researchers found that participants who were in the presence of one-sided conversations performed significantly less well on cognitive tasks than those in the presence of complete conversations. In fact, people who were in the presence of a two-sided conversation did not show any decline in their ability to complete the tasks.

Explaining that the inability to predict what someone will say likely creates difficulty in paying attention to the task at hand, and that single-sided conversations evoke this inability, the researchers note that activities such as driving may be seriously compromised when a passenger is talking on a cell phone. The issue may have more widespread applications, including the increase of difficulties for people attempting to gain greater focus through meditation or other actions.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Yolanda


    May 28th, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    If we weren’t all so nosy and wondering what’s being said on the other end of the phone, we’d be just fine! LOL. There’s no fun in two-sided conversations. You can’t make it up. :)

  • Sally


    May 28th, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Maybe concentrating on listening as well as responding makes us better able to focus as a whole?

  • paula


    May 28th, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    i follow one thing-do one thing perfectly rather than do two or even three things unsatisfactorily!it makes absolutely no sense in trying to do something when you cannot do it right and more so when it can get dangerous to you and others,as is in the case of using cell phones while driving.

  • sandra


    May 29th, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    Most of my conversations at home feel one sided most of the time- no wonder my brain feels like mush most days! :)

  • Nathaniel


    May 29th, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    I think it’s very rude to be eavesdropping! I see people do it often when I’m on the phone and they are blatant about it. They don’t even have the manners to pretend they aren’t listening.

  • Pauline


    May 30th, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    aha! I am married with children, nobody listens- no wonder the IQ has gone down!

  • Fletcher


    May 30th, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    A pet hate of mine is when a client’s phone rings when you’re working on a project together and they don’t let it go to voicemail or say they’ll call back. Yet they expect you to carry on working without their input while they talk loudly and at length. That’s so bad mannered.

  • Courtney


    May 31st, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    This is what I think- I think that when you are listening to but one side of a conversation your mind automatically works on trying to fill in the blanks and think about what the other person on the other line is saying. On the other hand when you are privy to hearing both ends of the conversation you can mentally tune all of that out and focus more on your task to compltee. You may be hering the conversation but you are not necessarily concentrating so hard trying to come up with the missing information that you are not hearing on the other line. But I guess that’s what we get for listening in on other peoples conversations. If we would just pay attention to what we need to do and not what others are talking about then maybe we would get the work accomplished!

  • Drew


    June 1st, 2010 at 6:13 PM

    Cell phones shouldn’t be used in cars in particular unless it’s an emergency. The distraction of passengers chatting away on it (sincerely hoping most drivers don’t do it at all!) could cause an accident. Is there really anything that urgent that it can’t wait until the car’s stationary? 99% of cellphone calls are not emergencies.

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