Please, for my sake and yours, focus on nothing but the words on this screen for the next few minutes. Any distraction may lead to hazy memory and an altered perception of reality. Put your smartphone on “do not disturb,” or better yet, get it out of sight.
Distractions are always going to be a part of life. But in this day in age, modern technology has made them almost constant. One study found that cell phones distract people 80 times per day. But this broken focus is more than just an inconvenience: it could lead to memory trouble and an inaccurate perception of reality.
A new study by researchers at Ohio State University found that distraction may cause a person to believe a different reality than they experienced. This, in turn, can lead to false or inaccurate memories.
The results of the study were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Researchers asked participants to focus on a four-colored square on a screen. Sometimes, a brightly colored square light lit up another square to serve as a distraction. Next, the participants were asked to identify the color they were staring at on a color wheel. If they chose a slim range, it signaled confidence in the selection; a wider range indicated doubt.
The results showed that most people confidently picked the color of the distraction light or overcompensated by picking the furthest color from the distraction light. In any event, the focus altered their perception of reality and memory.
If you want to improve your chance to form good memories and experience reality as it’s happening, as well as retain information, limiting distraction may be central to your efforts. Some ways to improve focus and encourage more accurate memories include:
- Limit cell phone use: Only use it when needed and come up with set times to check text messages and email.
- Exercise in the morning
- Be present with the tasks you are performing
- Eat healthy fats each day
- Say what you just learned or experienced out loud, or write it down.
- Don’t answer questions, the phone, or anything else that pulls you away. If someone asks you something while working, tell them you’ll respond when you’re finished. Double back a moment to make sure you regain your train of thought.