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  • [ INTRO ]

  • Psychologists have often described attention as a spotlight you can shine on things to

  • bring them into focus.

  • And while you're focused on something, your brain processes it preferentially, and everything

  • else falls into the background a little.

  • But a 2018 paper suggests that attention is more of a strobe lightit 'pulses'

  • by briefly switching focus to the background four times a second.

  • Put simply, humans are wired to be distractibleand although you might lament that fact

  • when you're trying to buckle down and study for an exam, it's actually a good thing

  • you're not always great at staying focused.

  • People tend to view distractibility as a bad thing, and that makes sense.

  • In modern society, we place a lot of value on productivity, and being distracted can

  • lower your performance on specific tasks.

  • I mean, just think of all the work you'd get done if you didn't keep getting lost

  • in daydreams, feel the urge to check your Twitter feed, or

  • Hey!

  • What's that shiny thing over there

  • Your brain does have ways of keeping you on task.

  • Most of the time, when you get distracted by the outside world or your own thoughts,

  • several areas in your frontal lobe will guide you back to what you should be doing, re-orienting

  • your attention from whatever intruded.

  • But there's a lot of built-in distractibility, too, and that's because, from an evolutionary

  • perspective, it has its perks.

  • Being able to focus intently to pump out a million expense reports in a row wasn't

  • really something that benefited our ancestors.

  • Instead, checking out the surroundings all of the time without realising it probably

  • made them less likely to get caught off guard by something dangerous, like a predator, or

  • Jack from the next tribe over, Jack.

  • And being easily distracted by even tiny threats could have meant the difference between safety

  • and becoming a snack.

  • That's something scientists say can been seen today by looking at how people with different

  • levels of anxiety react to distractions.

  • Anxious people are naturally predisposed to assume a threat is near, so they're even

  • more easily distracted by potential dangers.

  • For example, a 2007 study asked 44 participants to push a particular computer key as quickly

  • and accurately as they could after being prompted by a screen.

  • Once they'd gotten the hang of it, they were told that some extra words would appear

  • during each trial, which they were to ignore.

  • And everyone was pretty good at ignoring neutral words, like 'shower', or positive ones,

  • like 'delight'.

  • I meanshoweris a positive word in my book.

  • But the participants with higher levels of anxiety were more slowed down by negative

  • words that could be perceived as physical threats, like 'murder'.

  • It was as if their attention was yanked from the task in order to assess whether or not

  • they needed to protect themselves.

  • These days, that kind of strong reaction to perceived threats can be draining.

  • But in the past, a little anxiety might have been a good thing, since the odds were a lot

  • higher that there really was a significant potential threat.

  • And even when you're not in literal danger, a bit of distraction can be super useful.

  • If you're trying to be creative, for example, there's evidence to suggest that instead

  • of focusing hard on the task at hand, you should let yourself be distracted.

  • Several studies have suggested that distractibility and creativity are two sides of the same coin

  • or neuron.

  • That's because the structural differences in the brain that make a person more distractible

  • also seem to free up their imagination.

  • But a 2012 study went even further to show that a bout of daydreaming can get the creative

  • juices flowing no matter how distractible you are innately.

  • The researchers tested the creativity of 145 participants using a measure known as the

  • Unusual Uses Test.

  • In it, you're asked to write down as many uses for an object as you can within a set

  • time frame, and are assigned points for each use you come up with.

  • Participants did a baseline Unusual Uses Test, then either completed a mentally-demanding

  • task, an easy task that let their minds wander, or simply rested.

  • Then, they tried the Unusual Uses Test again.

  • Resting by itself didn't have much of an effect on their scores, nor did challenging

  • their brains with a demanding task.

  • But the group that was given the easy task crushed it.

  • Their scores improved by an average of about 42%.

  • And surveys revealed that distractions were really what gave them the edgethey were

  • the only group whose mind wandered significantly in between the two tests.

  • Other studies have suggested distractibility can help you prepare for the future.

  • In any given moment, things happening outside your focus might seem irrelevant.

  • Like, if you're trying to finish that report you're writing, a distant beeping sound

  • is just an annoying distraction.

  • But, the information you gather while distracted could become incredibly important later on.

  • Like, when you realize that beep was your phone alerting you to that super important

  • email containing all the information you need to finish your report... or a smoke alarm

  • going off nearby.

  • Look, I'm not trying to giving you an excuse to goof off every five minutes here.

  • Sometimes you've just got to focus.

  • But being distractible isn't always a bad thing.

  • So next time you find yourself daydreaming at work or distracted by something totally

  • random you see or hear, maybe don't get so mad at your brain for getting off task.

  • It's just trying to help you come up with an innovative way to solve whatever problem

  • you're stuck on, or, you know, making sure you don't ignore that incoming tiger.

  • Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych!

  • And thank you especially to our patrons on Patreon.

  • It simply cannot be overstated: without our patrons, we wouldn't be able to do what

  • we do, including making educational psychology content like this video.

  • So if you want to help us keep doing what we do best, or if you're curious what being

  • a member of our community of patrons feels like, you can go on over to Patreon.Com/SciShow

  • [ ♪OUTRO ]

[ INTRO ]

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B1 US distracted task focus daydreaming unusual anxiety

The Benefits of Being Easily Distracted

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    Нина Фешина posted on 2018/12/06
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