Oct 08, 2018 in Viewpoint

The science behind concentration areas

The new way of work and innovations in technology are requiring people to multitask more and more often. By having multiple sources of information available, we are constantly challenging our mental capacity.

Anne Wernand
by Anne Wernand
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During a task that requires focus, it is important not to spread your attention thinly among varying activities

Prensky (2001) and Veen (2003) showed in their research that the younger generation is much more capable of spreading their attention over several tasks than the older generations. During a task that requires focus, it is important, however, not to spread your attention thinly among varying activities but to shut yourself off from outside influences. In this moment of focusing, your brain will need some time to carry information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. This process is difficult to pull off without undivided attention.

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Resuming a particular task and fully focusing all our attention on it could take up to twenty minutes.

In Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, multitasking is actually, however, seen as the devil. According to Carr, the Internet is changing our brain. Networks of nerve cells that are involved in scanning, searching and multitasking will spread out, while the circuits that ensure that we can continue to keep reading and thinking in full concentration will weaken and disappear.

Some even believe that the Internet may lead to a multitasking addiction. People prefer to perform tasks that cost little effort, like checking your mail, for instance. The result of this is that we do many things that are quick and easy, but not very productive. Switching to e-mail costs hardly any energy at all, but resuming a particular task and fully focusing all our attention on it could take up to twenty minutes.

But what determines how our attention span functions?

Research has shown a correlation between selective attention and self-discipline. Research carried out by Kuo (2000) also reveals that the mental mechanisms that are at the foundation of self-discipline are the same ones that are the basis of focused attention. A collective study done by Baumeister (1994) on faulty self-regulation showed that the loss of control over our attention span is an important factor in the loss of self-regulation.

Focused attention is largely associated in terms of cognitive performance (resistance versus distraction, planning, creating a decision process, remembering things). Kaplan’s research showed that this mechanism could be involved in many more processes (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). Kaplan, in fact, proposes that focused attention is the regulating mechanism for a variety of forms of mental activity. It also determines which thoughts, images, feelings and impulses we focus on.

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We do many things that are quick and easy, but not very productive

It could very well be true that certain people with high self-regulation are better at ‘picking up’ a task again. Particularly for the group that struggles with this, it is important that there are study areas available in which they can find seclusion to make it easier to concentrate. With all of today’s creative, stimulating, open space workplaces, this will become more difficult.


Sources

  • Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon.
  • Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, part 2: Do they really think differently?
  • Loh KK, Kanai R (2014) Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex.
  • Veen, W. (2003). A new force for change: homo sapiens. The Learning Citizen.
  • Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.
  • Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, part 2: Do they really think differently?
  • Loh KK, Kanai R (2014) Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex.
  • Veen, W. (2003). A new force for change: homo sapiens. The Learning Citizen (7), 5-7.


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