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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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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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