Why Is It So Hard to Ignore People on Cell Phones?

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Back before everyone and his elderly father had a Bluetooth headset permanently affixed to their ear, talking on a mobile phone in public was a foolproof way to let strangers know just how busy and important you were (also: how loudly you could talk). Nowadays, people just seem to want to talk about what they're having for dinner. So why can't we stop eavesdropping? According to researchers at Cornell University, it doesn't have anything to with your obsessive nosiness. Rather, it's the speaker's fault, for conducting a "halfalogue." (Also known as a one-sided conversation.)

Scientific American writes that halfalogues "make for dissonant eavesdropping because they are unpredictable. The less information we glean from a conversation, the harder our brains work to make sense of what we hear and the more difficult it is to stop listening." They also "demand more of our attention than dialogues and decrease our performance on other cognitive tasks—whether we are sitting at a computer in the lab, trying to read on the subway or driving a car."

No word yet on when the "halfalogue defense" will first be used at trial.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.