Simply learning new information or using existing knowledge in new ways can help increase attention, a new study finds.
It’s just the same way that young children learn to ‘train’ their brains: they learn new things about the world.
Acquiring knowledge and then thinking about how it fits into what we already know helps boost our attention.
The study itself used objects on a computer screen.
People grouped them into categories while researchers measured their brain waves.
Professor Rachel Wu, who led the study, explained the results:
“Adults can increase their attention skills by grouping objects into categories, and then using these categories to search for objects more efficiently.
In other words, we can build new knowledge or use existing knowledge to increase our attention.
Infants and children similarly can increase their attention skills by categorizing objects.”
Participant’s brain waves suggested that the construction and acquisition of knowledge was increasing their attentional efficiency.
Professor Wu said:
“You can think about it this way – by knowing the category of food, it makes it much easier to search for something to eat for lunch, rather than searching for the huge number of individual items that you could eat for lunch.
This new study showed how you can increase your attention abilities by learning about features of individual items to build a new category.”
Learning to increase attention
The old fashioned method of ‘learning stuff’ is far better than any brain training game to increase attention, argues Professor Wu:
“…[it] is similar to how infants and children increase their attention skills in real life.
We don’t make infants and children play attention games to increase their attention skills.
So, why would we make adults play these games to boost their attention?”
The study was published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics (Wu et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Thinking image from Shutterstock