The ClientWise Blog

The Science of Attention

Posted by Chris Holman on Aug 17, 2010 11:04:00 AM


My apologies for our brief hiatus...I've been away on jury duty.

There's a pretty interesting piece in yesterday's New York Times entitled, "Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain."

The premise of the article is intriguing. Organized by Dave Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, five neuroscientists take a raft trip down the San Juan River in a remote section of southern Utah.

The trip's intention is to explore what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains...in particular, this journey is an exploration into how attention, memory, and learning is affected; as well as how our capacity to focus is altered when we escape from the phone, email, texting, etc.

What makes this excursion doubly interesting is that it is populated by both "believers" and "skeptics". The believers postulate that heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety...and accept that getting into nature can help. The skeptics use their digital gadgets without reservation, and are not convinced that anything lasting will come of this trip, either personally or professionally.

As time went on during the trip, both the believers and the skeptics became more relaxed, reflective, quieter and more focused on their surroundings. While a few days away from civilization didn’t transform the group, it did get them to change the way they think about their research and themselves. For example, one person used to take out his computer during meetings, but is now saying that perhaps he can learn to listen better and work at becoming more engaged.

More and more, in this era of Information Overload, neuroscientists and psychologists are directing their focus to the Science of Attention. Some interesting new books on this topic include:

I find the entire topic quite absorbing. Behavioral studies have shown that performance suffers when people multitask. These same researchers also wonder whether attention and focus can take a hit when people merely anticipate the arrival of more digital stimulation. If true, this would mean that our attention and focus is always at a deficit! Bummer!

By the way, if you are reading this post while you are on vacation yourself...do yourself a favor:

Step away from the electronic device...now!

All the best!

PS...If you have a colleague or friend who might appreciate the information on this blog, please consider forwarding this to them. Thanks very much!

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Topics: Communication