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Sunday, November 06, 2016

Learning In The Age Of Digital Distraction | NPR

"The new book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains In A High-Tech World makes the case for managing the tsunami of digital distractions to aid how we learn, absorb information and live." according to Eric Westervelt, Education Correspondent. 

The Distracted Mind:
Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World
Maybe the smart phone's hegemony makes perfect evolutionary sense: Humans are tapping a deep urge to seek out information. Our ancient food-foraging survival instinct has evolved into an info-foraging obsession; one that prompts many of us today to constantly check our phones and multitask.

Monkey see. Click. Swipe. Reward.

A new book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World explores the implications of, and brain science behind, this evolution (some might say devolution). It was written Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist and a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and research psychologist Larry D. Rosen.

The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen  

Our friends at NPR's Shots blog recently spoke with one of the authors about distraction's impact on productivity. I wanted to talk with Dr. Gazzaley about what his research tells us about teaching, learning, studying and screen time in the age of digital distraction.

From food foragers to information foragers. Mechanisms that developed in our brain for survival have now evolved to include information foraging?
Correct. We see it in other primates and we believe that this is sort of a hijacking or an evolution of that same system that was critical for our survival in terms of seeking out food has now been directed at seeking out information.

Adam, we engage this info-foraging, this distraction even when that behavior is self-destructive or counterproductive?
Yes, some behaviors that drive us, like even addictive behaviors, might have some positive reward reinforcement and then many other negative consequences.

One of the main theses we explore in the book is our ability, or really remark-ability, to set high-level goals, which is in many ways the pinnacle of the human brain. These goals are complex, and this ability collides with very fundamental limitations in the skills that we have to enact these goals. We call those abilities cognitive control. We describe it in the book as a triad of: attention, working memory and goal management, which includes multi-tasking and task switching.

When we switch between tasks, we suffer a degradation of performance that then could impact every aspect of our cognition from our emotional regulation to our decision making to our learning process, as well as real world activities like school and work and safety on the road.

Source: NPR and The MIT Press Channel (YouTube)

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Nikos Andriotis said...

From what I know, the information seeking evolved as a sort of mental tool allowing us to find food in the first place, not news, cats or celebrity gossip.

But the evolutionary psychologists say it's hard-wired, definitely.
There is a sort of evolution lag. "Ancient minds and brains in current world". Exactly. Same was with high carbohydrate and fat food. The module motivating humans to seek it out was a great advantage when there wasn't much around. But that was a long time ago. And in the meantime, the McDonald's kicked in. And now people can't resist themselves from devouring it. Some people ask, why can’t other people just resists themselves. Here’s how humans still don’t know who they themselves are.

Same thing I guess happened to us in terms of information seeking.
There is another book you might find interesting, Hegle - Jonathan Crary's 24/7.
A bit different perspective, definitely, but also discusses current attention-based economy. If you find it interesting, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Helge Scherlund said...

Hi Nikos Andriotis,

Thank you for dropping by.
I appreciate your comment.

I will take a closer look at the book - Jonathan Crary's 24/7, Nikos.
Have a nice day :-)