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Brain teaser to test your attentional focus and multi-tasking abilities


How often do you review and com­ment on a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a col­league about an unre­lat­ed mat­ter? Or think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work?

We are often exposed to infor­ma­tion and task over­load, and required to do mul­ti­ple things at once.  And we often don’t rec­og­nize how mul­ti-task­ing is ene­my num­ber one when it comes to accu­rate and speedy performance…if you try to read a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a col­league, you will prob­a­bly sound dis­tant and unin­ter­ested and may not get the buy-in you expect­ed to get. If you think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work, you will prob­a­bly miss oppor­tu­ni­ties to teach him some­thing valu­able.

The fact is, human atten­tion is a lim­ited resource. Think about your atten­tional focus as the beam of a light. If the light is on an object it can­not be on oth­er objects at the same time with the same inten­sity. Only dim light will be avail­able to light up the objects in the periph­ery. The same hap­pens in your atten­tional sys­tem. Divid­ing atten­tion results in less atten­tional pow­er devot­ed to all the dif­fer­ent tasks that you are try­ing to do at the same time. The more tasks, the less atten­tion can be devot­ed to each. The result is more errors and waste of time. Although we all have the feel­ing that mul­ti­task­ing saves us time, it is often not the case. It is impor­tant to pri­or­i­tize, and to sequence, those tasks.

Try this exer­cise to test your atten­tional focus and mul­ti-task­ing abil­i­ties. Three words have been com­bined to make the grid of let­ters above. How many times does each of these words appear…? Can you com­pare your per­for­mance while search­ing for just one word vs. two of them at the same time? (or even the three of them, if you feel ambi­tious?)

How many times is the word SUN shown?
How many times is the word BUS shown?
How many times is the word NONE shown?

Solu­tions:
Sun is shown 12 times
Bus is shown 8 times
None is shown 4 times

Pascale Michelon— Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, PhD is a sci­en­tist, edu­ca­tor, and con­tribut­ing author to “The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age” (April 2013; 284 pages).

More brain teas­er games:

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Categories: Brain Teasers, Cognitive Neuroscience

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