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Posts Tagged ‘Attentional Control’

Laser Focus: How Meditation Can Improve Attention

April 27th, 2022 No comments
The Rangers Offseason is Turning into the Galaxy Brain Meme - Blue Seat  Blogs
Could meditation do this to our brains? Source: knowyourmeme.com

Doesn’t meditation just seem great? If you’re anything like me, you have tried it a couple of times but never got the habit to stick. Maybe you’re already meditating regularly, and if so, you have my respect. For us failing meditators of the world, we’ve all seen the glorious images of peaceful meditators with pristine lifestyles. It’s nice to romanticize ourselves sitting and being one with the moment. And sure, we know that it might be great for our mental well-being, but who has the time? You may ask yourself: why would I sit there and focus hard when I could not do that? And fair enough, you don’t really have to, and I’m not going to try and convince you. But I want to lay out the science for myself because I’m curious about how powerful meditation can be. I wonder how realistic the romantic images of monks and yogis are. Maybe, just maybe, if nothing else can get me to meditate, the wonders of science can! I’m looking for the cold, hard facts on what meditation can do. Specifically, since I’ve become aware of the importance of attention: I want to know if I can get outrageously good focus from meditating—laser focus.

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Can Simple Cognitive Tests be Key to the Fight to End Alzheimer’s Disease?

April 24th, 2022 No comments

1 in every 9 older adults (65 years and older) is currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. But the numbers do not tell the whole story. The losses faced by these patients cannot be boxed into statistical data. Patients start to forget their memories, their loved ones… who they are! As explained by Gerda Saunders, a writer with dementia,  she began to feel like a stranger to herself. There are many forms of dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause, and still, there are no available treatments that stop or slow the progression of the disease: the medications just treat the symptoms. But these treatments are based on early diagnosis of the disease, and the visible signs of Alzheimer’s usually appear years after the disease started developing. So early diagnosis can be really hard. Alzheimer’s disease can stay hidden for years! When we perceive the changes, it is usually too late. But that is not necessarily a cause for despair. Simple cognitive tests can be the key to an early and accessible diagnosis!

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Let’s Talk About Your Feelings: They Change How You See the World

April 24th, 2022 No comments

Have you ever been so stressed about an upcoming assignment that it’s all you can think about? Consumed with procrastination, you find yourself thinking about it while eating dinner with your friends—what were you talking about again? You were too busy thinking about your calculus midterm. If that doesn’t ring a bell, maybe this will: imagine relaxing in your home, making dinner, and watching television, when you see a cockroach scamper across your kitchen floor (eek!). If you’re like me, you would jump on the table and become all-consumed with how to get rid of the intruder. In your preoccupation, you severely burn the chicken you were cooking for dinner.

Our emotions are mentally taxing! (source)

While I can’t save your spoiled meal or ensure a good grade on your exam, I can explain the origins of the narrow-mindedness we experience when we are stressed or scared. Let’s talk about an idiom for a second. When you are stressed out, a cognitive psychologist might say that you “can’t see the forest for the trees.” In other words, you’ve become too focused on the details to see the bigger picture. You have a paper due tomorrow, but you spent all day deciding what font to use.

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Why You Should Stop Multitasking…Right Now

December 5th, 2020 No comments

Multitasking is often thought of as a magical tool that will help people be more productive.

About ten years ago the Internet became flooded with articles about multitasking and its potential benefits for productivity and time management. Now and then you can stumble upon articles, written for entrepreneurs, employers, or people who want to increase their productivity, promoting multitasking. A lot of people face the issue of not having enough time due to the fast pace of modern life, having a lot of commitments, or not being good at time management, so they choose to multitask, hoping it would allow them to save some time. However, what people don’t realize is that multitasking can be harmful, both for the quality of their work and their productivity.

Attention is a limited resource so if we multitask, we have to divide it between the tasks.

What is exactly multitasking? Cognitive psychologists define multitasking as performing multiple tasks while constantly switching between them. A key feature of multitasking is that a person focuses on each task over a short time span (Oswald et al., 2007). Multitasking can take a lot of forms: it can be listening to a podcast while walking, watching a TV show while doing your homework, or texting while driving. Some tasks mix well, like listening to a podcast while you are walking because walking is an automatic process that does not require a lot of cognitive resources. However, most of the time it is impossible for us to focus on two tasks simultaneously, especially if both of them are controlled processes, which require a lot of attentional resources, so we have to divide our attention between them, which comes at a cost.

 

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Moving From Autopilot Towards Mindfulness

November 24th, 2020 No comments

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Have you ever been carrying on a conversation with a friend when you realize you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about–let alone how you’re still talking? Or, maybe you’ve been driving when you blink and an entire hour goes by leaving you wondering where your mind went… and how your car is still intact? I could just be a bad friend, or a slacker driver, but I suspect I’m not alone. It’s likely that you’re zoned out a lot more often than you realize, and this isn’t without negative repercussions. In 2010, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert used a phone app to randomly record what 2,250 participants’ minds were focused on in a specific moment in relation to what they were doing and how they were feeling. They discovered that the average person spends about 47% of their day on “autopilot,” following automated behaviors while their thoughts wander from the task at hand. Equally intriguing, when the participants reported their mind wandering, they also reported being significantly less happy in that moment. It may be unsettling to realize that you aren’t consciously aware of your behavior for half of your day, and that generally the more time we spend directed by automated behaviors, the less happy we’re likely to feel (Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010).
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You Should Be Paying Attention(al) to this Bias 

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

Putting all of your attentional resources towards studying!

You rush into a library late on a rainy night, toting all your calculus notes with you. In just a few days, you have the biggest exam of the semester, and you know you have to do well to keep up your grades. As you walk in, you are greeted by an extensive number of stimuli, the warmth of the library, the smell of coffee floating through the air, the sound of pages rustling. You head to your favorite spot in the cubicle section of the library, pull your books out of your backpack, and get ready to start studying for your exam. Before you do though, you take a quick look at the people around you. You notice a person in a bright red rain jacket about 20 feet away from you, sitting on a chair reading a book. You also notice a group of students huddled around a table, and a man in a suit typing away on his laptop. But that’s enough of observing people, you are here to work on calculus! You really immerse yourself in the math, reading your textbook, reviewing notes, and solving problems in your notebook. You check the clock on the wall every once in a while and after a solid hour and a half of intense studying, you decide to take a break. You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished and decide to go to the next door cafe to get yourself a treat. As you stand up you scan the environment around you – to your surprise, you don’t see the group of students, the businessman, or the woman in the bright red raincoat. Instead there are new people around you that you don’t recognize – How did this happen? You weren’t asleep and you didn’t leave your spot in the library, yet you didn’t notice people leave or enter the space. This is an example of attentional bias, which causes people to pay attention to certain things while ignoring other stimuli. In this example, your attention was directed to the task at hand – so much so that attention was not paid to your surroundings.

Now, imagine you are in a classroom where a professor is going through a lecture with slides. You start to zone out, thinking about something completely unrelated to the class, while staring at the floor. You snap back to reality, look at the slides, and don’t recognize what your professor is talking about. Despite being in the closed classroom without distractions, you can’t remember what your professor was talking about, or what the past couple slides covered. This once again is attentional bias allowing you to ignore certain stimuli in your environment.

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I TOTALLY needed that $99 pair of light-up, pizza-alien sneakers…

November 25th, 2019 No comments

The $99 pair of light-up pizza, alien shoes that we all TOTALLY need (source)

Amazon Prime one-click ordering is dangerous territory. Bacon-patterned duct-tape? A ten-pound bag of gummy bears? A pool floaty shaped like a dinosaur? The only thing standing between you and these extremely valuable purchases is 1-click (and free 2-day delivery, of course). But you needed that $99 pair of light-up pizza-alien sneakers– your purchase was entirely justified. Even though you already have 5 other pairs of sneakers, your life would not be complete without this specific pair. Let’s be real, every person (including you) has impulsively bought something and then spent the rest of the day validating or rationalizing your decision. Well, that urge to justify your purchase is a real psychological phenomenon named Post-Purchase Rationalization, or the idea that people tend to justify and defend the purchases they make even if the purchase was impulsive, misguided, inadequate or so on (i.e. you telling yourself that buying those sneakers was a good decision is you post-purchase rationalizing). 

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Don’t Worry, Your New Friend Isn’t Actually Following You

November 25th, 2019 2 comments

Imagine you are a college student at a party on a Saturday night. A friend introduces you to a guy that you have never met before; in fact, you have never even seen him before. The next day, you see the guy you just met in the dining hall, and then again later that afternoon in the library. Over the next few weeks, you start to feel like you see this guy everywhere you go on campus. This is called the frequency illusion. You may think that you are seeing him more often, but this is a distortion of reality and likely false.

When you meet a new person on campus and then you start seeing them all the time.

So, why are you feeling this way? It’s due to the frequency illusion, which is a cognitive bias that describes our tendency to notice something we have recently been introduced to much more often than we remember in the past. You may begin to notice the boy from the party more often, even though you do not recall ever seeing him before. The two major cognitive aspects of the frequency illusion are confirmation bias and selective attention (Zwicky, 2006). Confirmation bias occurs when people actively seek ways to confirm their original beliefs, while selective attention refers to our ability to focus on a particular stimulus while in the presence of multiple stimuli. Since attention is a limited resource, we are not able to attend to all of the stimuli that may be present in our environment. We need to recognize which is the most relevant, and dedicate our attentional resources to that stimulus. The two combine to create the frequency illusion; from the example above, now that you have met this guy, you choose to pay attention to him when you encounter him on campus (selective attention). Once you see him around a few times, you believe that he is everywhere and start to look for ways to confirm this belief (confirmation bias).  Read more…

What was I saying? Oh, right, Absent-mindedness…

April 26th, 2018 No comments

It’s a Saturday night. You come home early to catch your favorite TV show. You’re in such a hurry that you throw your keys somewhere carelessly. When it’s time to go out, you can’t remember where you put your keys. It’s not at the regular spot where you usually place your keys. It takes a long time for you to find them. Does this seem familiar? When things like this happen, you might wonder if there’s something wrong with your mind. In fact, it is a common phenomenon called absent-mindedness.

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Absent-mindedness is a cognitive bias that happens when people “zone out” and make mistakes in daily life (Broadbent, Cooper, FitzGerald, & Parkes, 1982). The mistakes can be anything related to a lack of attention, e.g., walking in a room and forgetting why you came in, dropping something unintentionally, or throwing your phone in a trash can and keeping the coffee cup (which happened to me once). Absent-mindedness is where attention and memory come together, even though they seem to be two separate things.

How is absent-mindedness related to attention? Before answering this question, we need to know that our attention has a limited capacity (Sanbonmatsu, Strayer, Biondi, Behrends, & Moore, 2015). One theory suggests that when our limited attentional resource is occupied, the rate of absent-mindedness may increase (Fisher & Hood, 1987). This means that if you are talking to a friend while walking down the street and paying little attention to your surroundings, you might end up bumping into someone if that person is being absent-minded as well!
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Absentmindedness: Why am I so bor…. oh wait I love this song!

April 26th, 2018 No comments

Do you ever find yourself bored for no reason? Wishing you were somewhere else doing something else? Or how about doing more than one thing at once? For example, you are driving…searching for your favorite song knowing full well that scrolling through your playlist while driving is dangerous. (click here to learn more about the perils of distracted driving).

Taken from imgflip.com

This humorous clip points to how multitasking while driving results in errors. In this situation, you are attending to two different tasks at once. We find ourselves in these situations more frequently than we like to admit. This has a lot to do with how and where we direct our attention. Interests and desires impact attentional control. The more we are interested in a task, the more attention we give to it. Attentional control is affected by how much attention we have to give each task.  We, only have a finite amount of attentional resources, and each task requires different levels of attention. This can lead to the cognitive bias, absentmindedness, which is the failure to attend to a task resulting in mistakes and forgetful behavior particularly when two tasks are being attempted simultaneously. A point of distinction is that multitasking which leads to absentmindedness is not a positive attribute and one we should avoid. Read more…