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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 light — it 'pulses'

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

Put simply, humans are wired to be distractible
— and 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…

What's that shiny thing over there…
Your brain does have ways of keeping you on

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 mean “shower” is 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

And surveys revealed that distractions were
really what gave them the edge — they 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

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

And thank you especially to our patrons on

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

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The Benefits of Being Easily Distracted

31 Folder Collection
Нина Фешина published on December 6, 2018
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