Nov 29, 2008
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Karolinska Institute’s Dr. Torkel Klingberg has just released in the US his excellent book The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory
The title was first released in Sweden with great success, and our co-founder Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg gave a Foreword to the new US edition.
Dr. Klingberg will be writing an essay for SharpBrains readers soon, so we can discuss the importance of this topic and his work in depth. Let me now link to two thought-provoking reviews of the book:
Attention Must Be Paid (Inside Higher Ed)
– “The weak link in the information age seems to be our human hard-wiring. So one gathers from The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory (Oxford University Press) by Torkel Klingberg, who is a professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the Stockholm Brain Institute. A review of recent research on how attention and memory actually function within our gray matter, it is a work of scientific popularization rather than a handbook on how to minimize the cognitive drain of distraction.”
– “To simplify Klingberg’s already pared-down analysis, we can distinguish between two kinds of attention. One is controlled attention: the directed effort to apply ones concentration to a particular task. The other is stimulus-driven attention, which is an involuntary response to something happening in the environment. (You can tune out the conversations going on around you in a restaurant. But if a waiter drops a tray full of dishes, it is going to impose itself on your awareness.)”
– “Klingberg reports that a two-year study in his lab showed that it was possible to increase working-memory capacity: “children who had done a certain type of computerized memory task, such as remembering positions in a four-by-four grid and clicking a mouse button, improved at other, noncomputerized types of working memory too…. We had shown that the systems are not static and that the limits of working memory capacity can be stretched.
– “Acquiring new information requires particularly focused attention, which includes the ability to ignore distractions. In order to absorb the information contained in a CNN newscast, for example, we must not only direct our attention to the person talking, but also filter out the running headlines, news updates, and financial ticker on the lower part of the screen. Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Karolinska Institute in Sweden and author of The Overflowing Brain, puts it simply:“If we do not focus our attention on something, we will not remember it.” In other words, attention is a critical component of learning.”
– “Michael Posner, a researcher who has dedicated his career to studying attention and a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon, explains attention as a system of three networks alerting, orienting, and executive. Alerting refers to the state of wakefulness necessary to attend to information, while orienting is the process by which we respond to stimuli, such as movement, sound, or noise. Executive attention is the highest-order network, the one that we have conscious control over. If we are trying to study for a test or read a novel, we use it to direct and maintain our focus, as well as to suppress our reaction to competing stimuli like the din of a nearby conversation or television.”
For interviews with Torkel Klingberg, Michael Posner and other leading scientists, check out our Neuroscience Interview Series.