Distractibility Trait Predisposes Some to Attentional Lapses

Posted on December 16, 2015

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People vary according to different personality traits, such as extraversion or conscientiousness, and new research suggests that they also vary according to a particular cognitive trait: distractibility.

“We all know from personal experience that some people appear to be more prone to lapses of attention than others. At the same time, we know that inattention and distractibility characterize people with a clinical diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” says study author Nilli Lavie of University College London. “This led us to hypothesize that there might be an attention-distractibility trait that all of us have to some degree, and the clinical end of the spectrum is seen as ADHD.”

To investigate whether such a continuous trait exists, Lavie and co-author Sophie Forster had a healthy sample of 174 adults complete computerized tasks that measured their distractibility. The results showed that participants’ distractibility was associated with the level of ADHD symptoms they reported experiencing at childhood, including both their overall ADHD score and their scores for the two ADHD subtypes (inattention and hyperactive-impulsive).

The correlation between distractibility and ADHD symptoms held across the full range of scores, suggesting that distractibility is a continuous trait that ranges from low to high across the general population. “Since the correlation of ADHD scores and our objective computerized measure of distractibility was established with adults who performed the task now but reported about ADHD symptoms experienced in childhood, this suggests that distractibility is a trait that is present already in childhood and predisposes people to attention lapses during adulthood, as well,” says Lavie.

According to Lavie and Forster, being able to recognize and measure an attention-distractibility trait could help us understand why some individuals seem to be particularly prone to inattentive accidents and errors. The trait could be “a significant yet underrecognized determinant of general well-being,” the researchers conclude.

The current article has been adapted in content for length. Follow the link below to read it in full.

Category(s):Adult ADHD, Personality problems

Source material from Association for Psychological Science

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