Can you focus your attention on what is important?
If you have been following our Facebook or LinkedIn pages you will know that we have had quite a few posts about attention in the last month. In this blog post you will be able to read about the basic functionality of attention and some interesting studies that sheds new light on the importance of attention and why it can sometimes be difficult to focus.
Basics of attention
Your attention has the job of prioritizing and filtering all the information you are faced with every second. It picks the information it wants your brain to process with its other functions, like memory.
If you don’t pay attention to the right things, you might make the wrong conclusions, answer the wrong thing, or perform the wrong task. Because of this, we are not only wired to automatically pay attention; we can also choose what we focus our attention on. When we make a conscious effort to focus our attention it is also called goal-driven attention or endogenous attention.
We have all experienced a loud sound or sudden movement that we immediately focus on. This is a form of automatic unconscious attention, also called stimulus-driven attention or exogenous attention. It is a useful skill to have in terms of survival and safety. We are programmed to pay attention to sudden movements and loud unexpected noises to avoid being eaten by predators and hurt by dangers in our environment.
The need for attention has changed
The information your stimulus driven attention chooses to prioritize is based on years and years of human survival, but part of our intelligence is the ability to adapt our thinking and behavior to new scenarios. Most of us will agree that our modern everyday lives, are less about survival and more about processing information.
Whether it is texts, pictures, movies, sound or all of the above, your attention chooses what you focus on and deem important for further brain processing. Your memory does not have the capacity to process and remember all the information you are faced with, which means that a selection process is absolutely required to avoid you feeling overwhelmed. These selections are based on how you use your attention. You program it for what is important and the more you do this, more and more of the process becomes automated.
Scientific studies shed light on the importance of attention
Intenet use alters our attention skills
This article illustrated how the internet is affecting our attention – especially modern children’s attention. We have easy access to vast amount of information. More information than we could ever hope to read in a lifetime. This amount of information makes our brain more selective in what information it actually wants to deal with. This has led to us becoming better and better at skimming texts and information, but less able to actually read in depth. We lose interest faster and move on to other more interesting things. And this behavior has an effect on our memory and by an extension – our ability to learn. If this tendency continues we are likely to have less and less factual knowledge in our brains, ready for use, but as an offset, we are getting increasingly good at evaluating whether content is relevant to us and we are getting better and better at knowing where to look for the information we can’t remember ourselves.
Lowering mind wandering and improving focus equals better learning abilities
The study indicated that students trained in mindfulness (being aware of how you are using you attention and focusing it to serve your needs) became better at remembering things, better at learning and were better at solving problems – which meant they scored higher test scores than students that did not receive this training.
Activities that require enhanced attention makes children with dyslexia better at reading
Finally, a new study showed that children with dyslexia experienced the benefit of 1 year of reading training after playing just 12 hours of action games. This suggests that dyslexia could be a result of the attention not being able to focus on what is important and that their minds are overworked and spends too many resources on unimportant stimulus.
You can take charge and control your life through your attention
We certainly don’t know everything there is to know about the complex processes of our attention, but new research studies are continually showing the importance of its function. We need to be aware of how our daily lives affect our brains and abilities and we have to decide whether we will accept those effects.
Are we happy with all of us being more and more distracted, less able to focus on a task in-depth, but better at finding information? Maybe it would be a good idea to balance the two? Should we make an effort to limit mind wandering so we can become better at what we do? Maybe we should dedicate some time to focus on specific tasks without distractions? And maybe we should decide to focus our attention on improving our ability to pay attention and make sure we are as good as we can be.
So be aware of how you use your attention.