How The Most Distracted People Can Boost Their Attention

Heavily distracted people benefited most from the simple task.

Heavily distracted people benefited most from the simple task.

A short breathing exercise is enough to refocus the minds of highly distracted people, new research finds.

Heavy media multitaskers benefited most from simply counting their breaths, psychologists found.

Media multitaskers might typically have a chat session open on the computer while also watching a video and checking their email.

Thomas Gorman, the study’s first author, said:

“In general, people perform better after this mindfulness task.

But we found a significant difference for heavy media multitaskers.

They improved even more on tests of their attention.”

Dr C. Shawn Green, a senior author of the study, said:

“Many people have had the experience where they’ve felt a phantom phone ring or vibration in their pocket.

That means part of your attention is actively monitoring your leg, even while you’re trying to do other things.

Most of us who study media multitasking think that monitoring lots of sources constantly — instead of devoting yourself to one thing –induces a more distributed attentional state.

The mindfulness task simply involved counting groups of nine breaths: nine inhales and nine exhales.

Participants did this a few times before being given tests of their attention.

Dr Green explained:

“We thought this mindfulness task might be particularly useful to media multitaskers because it is, conceptually, somewhat the opposite of media multitasking.

It’s deep focus on a single thing, and that single thing is not actually very demanding of your attention.

No one can stay focused on it indefinitely.

When you notice your attention slipping away, you bring it back over and over.

You’re practicing that skill, refocusing your attention.”

The results showed that heavy media multitaskers scored worst on the measures of attention.

But they showed the greatest improvements after counting their breaths.

Dr Green said:

“We know that the beneficial effects aren’t long lasting in this case, as they didn’t carry over across days.

However, one thing the presence of the short-term effects suggests is that the attentional system in heavy media multitaskers isn’t intractably affected.

It is possible for heavy media multitaskers to adopt a more focused attentional state.”

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Gorman & Green, 2016).

Multitasking image from Shutterstock

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

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.

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