Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UCL scientist develops a measure of distraction

30.05.2007
A scientific indicator of how easily distracted you are has been designed by a UCL (University College London) psychologist. It could be used as another assessment tool during the recruitment process and would have particular benefits in fields where employee distraction could lead to fatal errors.

People who are more easily distracted are at greater risk of being involved in accidents. Professor Nilli Lavie, UCL Psychology, who led the research published today in the Association for Psychological Science journal, said: “When you are easily distracted, you are more liable to do things like put your keys in the fridge or call out ‘come in’ when answering the phone. These are the more amusing consequences of distraction but distraction can have more serious implications. For example, it is known to be associated with a higher risk of being involved in various types of accidents such as car and workplace accidents.”

Some jobs – such as bus driver or pilot – put the employee in situations where the potential for distraction is very high and yet focused attention is crucial. This computer-based test, which measures subjects’ accuracy and reaction times when they are exposed to distractions, would effectively filter out any candidates who were easily distracted.

Professor Lavie said: “This test could act as another form of psychometric testing for employers who want to know how focused the staff they are hiring are likely to be. Some jobs can be undertaken very well even if you are prone to being distracted. For example, you can be a great scientist or writer and still be absent-minded! But there are many areas where productivity critically depends on the ability of staff to stay focused, yet current psychometric tests do not measure it.”

This test correlates with responses given to the ‘Cognitive Failures Questionnaire’, which predicts a person’s level of distractibility provided that the subject answers honestly. The questions include: “How often do you find you accidentally throw away the thing you want and keep what you meant to throw away – as in the example of throwing away the matchbox and putting the used match in your pocket?”

Professor Lavie said: “Relying on questionnaires to assess how easily distracted potential employees might be obviously has its downsides – people are not always honest about their negative attributes during interviews.

“People come away from our test thinking they’ve done really well and haven’t been distracted at all when in fact their response times increase and they tend to make more mistakes; showing that they have been distracted. So the test is objective and there’s no way of doctoring the results.”

61 subjects took a short computerised test during which letters, acting as distractions, flashed up on screen. The test involves finding the odd-one-out in a circular display of letters. For example, subjects had to find the letter X amongst similar letters such as H, M, K and Z; or, in the easier task, a letter X or N among Os. At the same time, letters were flashed on-screen outside the circle of letters to distract the participant from their task. Subjects were asked to ignore the distracter letters and focus on the odd-one-out in the circle of letters. They had to rapidly press the relevant key on a keyboard when they located the odd-one-out. This measures reaction times and the effects of distracters on performance.

The second finding in the paper showed that all people – whether they are generally easily distracted or not – were far less distracted when they were performing the more difficult task. Because the brain was loaded with information that was relevant to the task, there was no extra brain capacity for processing distracting information and so even people who are more easily distracted are able to focus all their attention on the task in hand.

Professor Lavie said: “This second finding shows that, even if you are more easily distracted than others, you can decrease your susceptibility to being distracted. This could have important implications for increasing attention and performance. I am currently working on specific applications for education that aim to improve attention in school pupils and reduce the likelihood of them being distracted both in class and when doing homework. We could make commercial applications of the distraction test available on demand.”

Alex Brew | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>