PhD student wins Alphonse Chapanis Award

Alumnus Jason Telner (PhD ’08) has won the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Alphonse Chapanis Best Student Paper Award for his paper dealing with bilingualism and driving.

In particular, Telner’s paper, “Is There a Bilingual Advantage When Driving and Speaking on a Cellular Telephone?", looked at whether bilingual people are better at driving while talking on a cell phone than monolingual drivers. It turns out they are, according to Telner’s research.

Telner’s paper beat out over 30 other papers to snatch the award last week, along with $1,000, at the 52nd annual HFES meeting in New York.

Right: Bilinguals have been found to drive better than monolinguals while talking on a cell phone. Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

Under the direction of York psychology Professor David Wiesenthal, Telner evaluated the performance of 35 monolingual and 47 bilingual people in a virtual driving environment without a cell phone and with a hands-free cell phone in a simulated conversation in English. A computer driving-simulation program which measured a series of safety benchmarks such as speed and lane deviation was used.

The virtual driving without a cell phone served as the benchmark for the driving test that included chatting on a cell phone. What Telner found was that bilingual people were better able to handle the multi-tasking nature of talking and driving. Although the bilingual’s driving ability decreased slightly when they were engaged on the phone, it did not decrease as much the monolingual’s ability.

Telner, who defended his PhD dissertation in May, says his research could have implications for laws dealing with driving and cell phone use, particularly in highly-bilingual areas of the country.

The award is given to a student who has conducted outstanding human factors research and has had their paper accepted for the HFES annual meeting where it is presented before the Chapanis Award Committee. The student paper judged to be the best is presented the award.

The HFES is a multidisciplinary professional association of almost 5,000 people in the US and around the world. Its members include psychologists, designers and scientists, all of whom have a common interest in designing systems and equipment to be safe and effective for the people who operate and maintain them.