Talking on a hands-free phone while driving can be as hazardous as using a handheld

Users visually imagine subject of conversations which competes with what drivers are actually looking at for the brain’s processing resources

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 June, 2016, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 June, 2016, 5:01pm

Think talking on your hands-free is safe? Think again

Driving while talking on a hands-free phone can be just as distracting as talking on a hand-held mobile phone, psychologists at the University of Sussex have found. The study, published in the Transportation Research journal, found that drivers having conversations which sparked their visual imagination detected fewer road hazards than those who didn’t. They also focused on a smaller area of the road ahead of them and failed to see hazards, even when they looked directly at them.

“Hands-free can be equally distracting because conversations cause the driver to visually imagine what they’re talking about. This visual imagery competes for processing resources with what the driver sees in front of them on the road,” says Dr Graham Hole, a senior lecturer in psychology. “The only ‘safe’ phone in a car is one that’s switched off.” Hole and colleagues ran two experiments in which participants performed a video-based hazard-detection task. In the first experiment, participants were either undistracted, or distracted by listening to sentences and deciding whether they were true or false. All of the distracted participants were slower to respond to hazards, detected fewer hazards and made more ‘looked but failed to see’ errors, meaning their eyes focused on a hazard but they didn’t actually see it. These impairments were worse for the participants who were distracted by imagery-inducing statements. Tracking the drivers’ eye movements, the researchers also found that drivers who were distracted suffered from “visual tunnelling”, tending to focus their eyes on a small central region directly ahead of them.

What happens when parents comment on their daughter’s weight?The less you comment on your daughter’s weight, the less likely she is to be dissatisfied with her weight as an adult according to a new study from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab published in Eating & Weight Disorders. For the study, 501 women between 20 and 35 years old were surveyed about their body image and asked to recall how frequently their parent(s) commented on their weight. Those with a healthy body mass index (BMI) were 27 per cent less likely to recall their parents commenting on their weight and 28 per cent less likely to recall parents commenting on eating too much compared to women whose BMI indicated they were overweight. Importantly, both overweight and healthy weight women who did recall their parents commenting on their weight as youths were less satisfied with their weight as adults. This indicates that weight-related comments were damaging to body image regardless of weight. “If you’re worried about your child’s weight, avoid criticising them or restricting food. Instead, nudge healthy choices and behaviours by giving them freedom to choose for themselves and by making the healthier choices more appealing and convenient,” recommends lead author Brian Wansink. “After all, it’s the choices that children make for themselves that will lead to lifelong habits.”

Larger wine glasses may lead people to drink more

Serving wine in larger glasses may encourage people to drink more, even when the amount of wine remains the same, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit. In a study published in the journal BMC Public Health, researchers found that increasing the size of glasses led to an almost 10 per cent increase in wine sales. Professor Theresa Marteau, director of the unit, says: “This suggests that avoiding the use of larger wine glasses could reduce the amount that people drink. We need more research to confirm this effect, but if it is the case, we will need to think how this might be implemented. For example, could it be an alcohol licensing requirements that all wine glasses have to be below a certain size?” The study was carried out at The Pint Shop in Cambridge where wine (in 125ml or 175ml servings) could be purchased by the glass. Over the course of a 16-week period, the owners of the establishment changed the size of the wine glasses at fortnightly intervals, alternating between the standard (300ml) size, and larger (370ml) and smaller (250ml) glasses. The researchers found that the volume of wine purchased daily was 9.4 per cent higher when sold in larger glasses compared to standard-sized glasses. This effect was mainly driven by sales in the bar area, which saw an increase in sales of 14.4 per cent, compared to the restaurant (8.2 per cent increase). The findings were inconclusive as to whether sales were different with smaller compared to standard-sized glasses.