Attention Span - Part 2


Last post I spoke about the increasing phenomenon of decreasing attention span. Pretty much a global problem and one that is blamed primarily upon technology and most specifically, smartphone addiction. 

According to a report in United States' publication Scientific American, data from a sample of 100 US hospitals found that in 2004 an estimated nationwide 559 people had hurt themselves by walking into a stationary object while texting. By 2010 that number increased to 1500. Estimates by the study authors predicted the number of injuries would double between 2010 and 2015.

Here in Australia the story isn't really any different. As recently as February 2018, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital trauma service director Associate Professor Daryl Wall said patients had told him they were distracted by their mobile phones when their injury happened. Queensland Transport Department figures show 37 pedestrians died on Queensland roads last year and 347 required hospital treatment.

So, for the sake of our attention span and also our personal safety, what should we do?

1) Stop Multitasking

Juggling multiple activities not only divides your attention among the tasks, but you also pay a cognitive "penalty" on top of that to manage the switching. This results in more errors and makes things take longer than they would have if you had done them each separately. If you don't believe me, read my full explanation here.

2) Get Some Exercise

Strengthen your body and you strengthen your brain. In fact, cognitive control is measurably better after just a single exercise session. Again, this is something I have previously written about.

However the brief summary is that exercise boosts in cognitive control abilities occur even after engagement in a single bout of physical exertion, as assessed in healthy children and those diagnosed with ADHD, with benefits extending to academic achievement. 

3) Go Outside

Spending time in nature recharges those neurones. The effect is so powerful that merely looking at a picture of nature has restorative effects. 

A 2008 paper described a significant improvement in working memory performance of subjects after a nature walk, but not after the urban walk. Similar beneficial effects of nature exposure have been shown to occur in children with ADHD and young adults with depression. 

Cant get way out into the wilderness? The next best thing is gardening! Even better is partaking of a community gardening project. The group project creates social interaction with shared goals in a nature (ish) setting. Studies are showing that significant results are being achieved in the forestalling of dementia and Alzheimer's through community or group gardening.

4) Reduce Distractions

If you're serious about making a change, then it's time to acknowledge whatever distraction is your vice. Get rid of it. Turn off the phone and put it in a drawer. Turn off the TV or get off the Internet.

A recent study by Professor Bill Thornton and his colleagues at the University of Southern Maine in the United States, demonstrated that when performing complex tasks requiring our full attention, even the mere presence of the experimenter’s phone (not the participant’s phone) caused a distraction and decreased performance. In the same study, the presence of a student’s silenced phone in a classroom had an equally negative impact on attention.

If computer work is part of the activity you are requiring laser-like focus for then switch off all notifications. Microsoft has included in its April 2018 update to Windows 10, additional settings to allow the Windows 10 user to turn off all notifications - whether permanently or temporarily. If you are a Windows user and your focus suffers from distractions, this is for you!