The most distracted people can refocus with this simple excercise

Posted on April 21, 2016

Psychologists have found that heavy media multitaskers (e.g. people who have a chat session open on the computer while also watching a video and checking their email) benefit the most from simply counting their breaths.

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.”

According to Dr C. Shawn Green, a senior author of the study, many people have had the experience where they’ve felt a phantom phone ring or vibration in their pocket. Meaning that part of your attention is actively monitoring your leg, even while you’re trying to do other things. Researchers 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 that the mindfulness task was particularly useful to media multitaskers because, since it is focus on a single activity that does not demand much attention, it is conceptually the opposite of media multitasking.

He says that 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 acknowledges that the beneficial effects are not long lasting (i.e. they don'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 is easily affected, hence 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).

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Source material from psyblog

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