Have you ever been standing in line at the grocery store and the person behind you gets a phone call? A part of you thinks that you should just ignore the conversation happening between two complete strangers, but a bigger part of you just can't help eavesdropping on at least one-half of the phone conversation - rather than paying attention to your own business. If you have found yourself paying more attention to a stranger's phone conversation than your own agenda, don't think of yourself as being nosy - blame science.

You may feel as if you are invading someone's privacy by listening in, but researchers at Cornell University in Ithica, New York, say that concentrating on your own task at hand while someone is on their own phone is almost impossible.

HealthDay News reports that hearing one-half of a phone conversation is more distracting to someone than being able to hear both sides of the conversation because it "erodes our ability to pay attention to other tasks."  But what exactly does that mean?

Researchers say that the human brain has the natural born instinct to simply ignore things that are predictable, but pay more attention or focus on things that may be different or "unpredictable". So by hearing only half of a phone conversation, you are only experiencing a "snapshot" - just a peek - of someone else's world. A world that may be everyday and humdrum to them, but completely new and unpredictable to you.

But do scientists predict that our ability to concentrate will change over time? Possibly, but with about 285 million cell phone subscribers in the United States alone, it's an unpredictable distraction  that probably won't be going away any time soon.


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