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Why do You Turn Down the Radio When You’re Lost?
Posted By Caroline Latham On November 11, 2006 @ 1:29 In Attention and ADD/ADHD,Cognitive Neuroscience,Education & Lifelong Learning,Health & Wellness,Peak Performance,Professional Development | Comments Disabled
You’re driving through suburbia one evening looking for the street where you’re supposed to have dinner at a friend’s new house. You slow down to a crawl, turn down the radio, stop talking, and stare at every sign. Why is that? Neither the radio nor talking affects your vision.
Or do they?
In talking about using a cell phone while driving, Steven Yantis , a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University , had this  to say:
“Directing attention to listening effectively ‘turns down the volume’ on input to the visual parts of the brain. The evidence we have right now strongly suggests that attention is strictly limited - a zero-sum game. When attention is deployed to one modality - say, in this case, talking on a cell phone - it necessarily extracts a cost on another modality - in this case, the visual task of driving.”
He's talking about divided attention, or the ability to multitask and pay attention to two things at once. It's generally much harder than selective, or focused, attention. The factors that come into play are your attentional capacity and the processing requirements - essentially how much of which areas of your brain are needed to process the input.
Your attentional capacity can be taken up by inhibiting (tuning out) distractions, dividing your attention across multiple things, or even sustaining your attention on one thing (vigilance). Fatigue takes a big toll on attention. If you're tired, it's harder to concentrate. Depression has a similar effect . In fact, many memory complaints may be actually depression- or fatigue-related reduced attentional capacity. And guess what? Getting older both reduces your attentional capacity and increases your processing requirements. Basically, it takes more and more inhibition skill to tune out distractions and stay focused. But all is not lost; there are steps you can take to multitask better!
How to Divide Your Attention More Effectively
So, you’re not nuts to turn down the volume when you’re lost. By doing that, you are allowing more of your brain to focus on your mission — to find dinner!
Computerized training of working memory in children with ADHD 
Innovations Report 
Attention and Performance Limitations 
Attention and Sex: An Essay on Divided Attention 
Article printed from SharpBrains: http://sharpbrains.com
URL to article: http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/11/11/why-do-you-turn-down-the-radio-when-youre-lost/
URLs in this post:
 Steven Yantis: http://www.psy.jhu.edu/~yantis/
 Johns Hopkins University: http://www.jhu.edu
 this: http://www.jhu.edu/news/audio-video/brain.html
 Depression has a similar effect: http://health.yahoo.com/experts/agingridge/1412/memory-problem-all-in-your-mind
 Fermat's Last Theorem: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/proof/
 Torkel Klingberg: http://www.ki.se/kbh/neuropediatrics/cognitive_neuroscience/people.html
 Karolinska Institute: http://ki.se/?l=en
 said: http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/09/25/working-memory-training-and-robomemo-interview-with-dr-torkel-klingberg/
 Computerized training of working memory in children with ADHD: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=15689731&query_hl=2&itool=pubmed_docsum
 Innovations Report: http://www.innovations-report.com/html/reports/medicine_health/report-32848.html
 Attention and Performance Limitations: http://www.psypress.co.uk/pip/resources/slp/topic.asp?chapter=ch06&topic=ch06-sc-03
 Attention and Sex: An Essay on Divided Attention: http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/essay51.htm
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