How anxiety affects your focus (BBC Worklife):
Feel like you can’t concentrate on anything at the moment? You’re not alone. The extra anxiety caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has impaired our working memory, experts say … What’s happening is a malfunction of working memory: the ability to grasp incoming information, form it into a cohesive thought, and hold onto it long enough to do what you need to with it.
In other words, working memory is the ability to reason in real time, and it’s a big part of what makes the human brain so powerful. But research has showed that rapidly changing circumstances, worry and anxiety can all have a significant impact on your ability to focus.
Robinson (at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London) explains that even simple cognitive processes like making a shopping list now require more brainpower. “Now, rather than thinking, ‘I’ll just run to the store’, you’re thinking about what you need, what stores are open and whether it’ll be safe to go there. Let’s say your brain can do four tasks at once. Now all of a sudden there are 10, and you can’t do any of them” … rebooting your working memory may also mean cutting down on your news consumption and considering a break from social media. But the most effective thing to do might simply be to convince yourself it’s OK to be struggling.
“Giving yourself permission to feel it’s OK to not feel OK, paradoxically, can make you more OK. If you are just fixating on it, you aren’t going to get anything done,” says Robinson. “You’re just not going to be as productive, and there’s nothing wrong with not being able to work at 100% capacity: we are still in the midst of a pandemic.”
New study relevant to children and the future of education:
The Impact of Working Memory Training on Children’s Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills (working paper at University of Zurich)
- Abstract: Working memory capacity is thought to play an important role for a wide range of cognitive and noncognitive skills such as fluid intelligence, math, reading, the inhibition of pre-potent impulses or more general self-regulation abilities. Because these abilities substantially affect individuals’ life trajectories in terms of health, education, and earnings, the question of whether working memory (WM) training can improve them is of considerable importance. However, whether WM training leads to improvements in these far-transfer skills is contested. Here, we examine the causal impact of WM training embedded in regular school teaching by a randomized educational intervention involving a sample of 6–7 years old first graders. We find substantial immediate and lasting gains in working memory capacity. In addition, we document relatively large positive effects on geometry skills, reading skills, Raven’s fluid IQ measure, the ability to inhibit pre-potent impulses and self-regulation abilities. Moreover, these far-transfer effects emerge over time and only become fully visible after 12–13 months. Finally, we document that 3–4 years after the intervention, the children who received training have a roughly 16 percentage points higher probability of entering the academic track in secondary school.
News in Context:
- Why do You Turn Down the Radio When You’re Lost?
- Six tips to build resilience and prevent brain-damaging stress
- Five quick brain teasers to flex those Attention and Working Memory mental muscles
- Train your brain to think outside the box with these fun riddles
- 25 fun Brain Teasers and Puzzles for teens and adults of any age
- What are cognitive abilities and how to boost them?