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Test your attentional focus: is multi-tasking a good thing?

aaHow often do you lis­ten to the office gos­sip while fill­ing in forms? Or read a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a client? Or think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work?

We are con­stant­ly assault­ed by lots of infor­ma­tion and often required to per­form sev­er­al tasks at once. It is not easy to stay focused. How­ev­er being able to stay focused is cru­cial to achieve suc­cess. Indeed, if you are lis­ten­ing to the office gos­sip while fill­ing in forms, you will prob­a­bly make mis­takes. If you try to read a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a client, you will prob­a­bly sound dis­tant and unin­ter­est­ed to your client and may not get the con­tract 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 her some­thing.

As you may notice all the sit­u­a­tions above involve doing more than one thing at a time. Mul­ti-task­ing is ene­my num­ber one when it comes to accu­rate and speedy per­for­mance.

Human atten­tion is lim­it­ed. 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.

Try the exer­cise below to test your atten­tion­al focus. Three words have been com­bined to make this grid of let­ters. 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?

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: Read the rest of this entry »

Why working memory matters in the knowledge age: study

Do you ever have days when you wake up and every­thing seems wrong with the world? Hope­ful­ly for most of these types of days are not the norm but the excep­tion. How­ev­er, there are some peo­ple who see every­thing as ‘half-emp­ty’ instead of ‘half-full. Using cut­ting-edge psy­cho­log­i­cal research, I am inter­est­ed in find­ing out if it real­ly matters–Does it mat­ter if we see the glass as half-emp­ty?

We are on the cusp of a new rev­o­lu­tion in intel­li­gence that affects every aspect of our lives from work and rela­tion­ships, to our child­hood, edu­ca­tion, and old age. Work­ing Mem­o­ry, the abil­i­ty to remem­ber and men­tal­ly process infor­ma­tion, is so impor­tant that with­out it we could not func­tion as a soci­ety or as indi­vid­u­als. One way to visu­alise work­ing mem­o­ry is as the brain’s “Post-it Note”: we make men­tal scrib­bles of bits of infor­ma­tion we need to remem­ber and work with. For exam­ple, we use work­ing mem­o­ry to remem­ber direc­tions while dri­ving or someone’s name and phone num­ber. With­out it, we would be lit­er­al­ly lost; we wouldn’t know how to get to that impor­tant meet­ing and would for­get impor­tant con­tacts. Work­ing mem­o­ry is crit­i­cal for many activ­i­ties Read the rest of this entry »

Encephalon #61: Brain & Mind Reading for the Holidays

Wel­come to the 61st edi­tion Encephalon brain blog carnivalof Encephalon, the blog car­ni­val that offers some of the best neu­ro­science and psy­chol­o­gy blog posts every oth­er week.

We do have an excel­lent set of arti­cles today. cov­er­ing much ground. Enjoy the read­ing:

Neu­ro­science and Soci­ety

Neu­roan­thro­pol­o­gy,
by Greg Downey
The Fly­nn Effect: Trou­bles with Intel­li­gence
Aver­age IQ test scores had risen about 3 points per decade and in some cas­es more. Tests of vocab­u­lary, arith­metic, or gen­er­al knowl­edge (such as the sorts of facts one learns in school) have showed lit­tle increase, but scores have increased marked­ly on tests thought to mea­sure gen­er­al intel­li­gence.
Mind­Hacks,
by Vaugh­an Bell
Med­ical jar­gon alters our under­stand­ing of dis­ease
Under­stand­ing how pop­u­lar ideas influ­ence our per­son­al med­ical beliefs is an essen­tial part of under­stand­ing med­i­cine itself.
Cog­ni­tive Dai­ly,
by Dave Munger
Is it sex­ist to think men are angri­er than women?
Are we more like­ly to per­ceive a male face as angry and a female face as hap­py? A recent study sheds light on the issue.
Neu­r­o­crit­ic Crime, Pun­ish­ment, and Jer­ry Springer
Judges and jurors must put aside their emo­tion­al­ly-dri­ven desire for revenge when com­ing to an impar­tial ver­dict. Does neu­roimag­ing (fMRI) add any­thing to our under­stand­ing of jus­tice?

Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and Neu­rocog­ni­tive Health Read the rest of this entry »

Are Schools (Cognitively) Nutritive for Children’s Complex Thinking?

Today we host a very stim­u­lat­ing essay on the impor­tance of prob­lem-solv­ing and encour­ag­ing com­plex game-play­ing for chil­dren’s com­plete “cog­ni­tive nutri­tion”. Enjoy!

——————–

Chil­dren’s Com­plex Think­ing

– By Tom O’Brien and Chris­tine Wal­lach

Pop over to your neigh­bor­hood school and vis­it some class­rooms. Is what’s hap­pen­ing cog­ni­tive­ly nutri­tive? That is, does it sat­is­fy present needs and pro­vide nour­ish­ment for the future health and devel­op­ment of chil­dren’s think­ing?

Or is it puni­tive, with lit­tle con­cern for present nour­ish­ment and future health and devel­op­ment?

The Genevan psy­chol­o­gist and researcher Her­mi­na Sin­clair said, Read the rest of this entry »

Cells that fire together wire together” and Stanford Media X

That is the goal of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Media X: to fos­ter deep col­lab­o­ra­tions between indus­try and acad­e­mia, as high­light­ed in Busi­ness Week’s recent arti­cle The Vir­tu­al Meet­ing Room. The 5th Annu­al Media X Con­fer­ence on Research, Col­lab­o­ra­tion, Inno­va­tion and Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty served its pur­pose well for the last cou­ple of days: very fun and insight­ful pre­sen­ta­tions by Stan­ford researchers (and a few exter­nal experts) and a great list of par­tic­i­pants to get to know.

No doubt, a great source of men­tal stim­u­la­tion for all of us. Charles House, Media X’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, framed the dia­logue as an effort to gen­er­ate the right ques­tions and then engage the best minds in answer­ing them.

Some of (my) main take-aways

  • The world does not come to us as neat dis­ci­pli­nary prob­lems, but as com­plex inter­dis­ci­pli­nary chal­lenges” (great quote by Dean John Hen­nessy)
  • Per­son­al Robot­ics is poised to explode soon-and soft­ware will be key (pre­dict­ed by Paul Saf­fo)
  • An incon­ve­nient truth: Al Gore had to be con­vinced to bring his pre­sen­ta­tion into a movie, since he was very attached to each and every of his X hun­dred slides. We are hap­py it hap­pened!
  • Neu­ro­sci­en­tists know what pat­terns in the brain indi­cate cer­tain inten­tions-and are start­ing to use tech­nolo­gies to help immo­bi­lized patients com­mu­ni­cate with exter­nal devices based mere­ly on their thoughts
  • We need to learn to embrace change- a lot of it is com­ing!

Now, some key points from sev­er­al pre­sen­ta­tions (there were more than these, but I could­n’t attend all). I encour­age you to vis­it the web­site of each pre­sen­ter if you are inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about that top­ic.

a. Paul Saf­fo on Inno­va­tion

  • It usu­al­ly takes 20 years since basic sci­ence until appli­ca­tions reach inflec­tion point and take the world by storm
  • Next big thing: per­son­al robot­ics. Indi­ca­tors: Read the rest of this entry »

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