Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find
A new study in the journal Cognition overturns a decades-old theory about the nature of attention and demonstrates that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.
The study zeroes in on a phenomenon known to anyone who’s ever had trouble doing the same task for a long time: After a while, you begin to lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.
Some researchers believe that this “vigilance decrement,” as they describe it, is the result of a drop in one’s “attentional resources,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who led the new study. “For 40 or 50 years, most papers published on the vigilance decrement treated attention as a limited resource that would get used up over time, and I believe that to be wrong. You start performing poorly on a task because you’ve stopped paying attention to it,” he said. “But you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem.”