Author Archives: rgallahan

Distractions versus lack of concentration

Distractions. We all fall victim to them; whether it’s while doing homework, listening in class, or even driving. Attention caSpongeBob SquarePants is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Cartoon Characters You Never Realized Are Probably Gay Spongebob Cartoon, Memes Spongebob, Cartoon Memes, Spongebob Squarepants, Cartoon Characters, Funny Memes, Pictures Of Spongebob, Funny Pictures, Nickelodeon Spongebobn seem fleeting. Some of us even self diagnose with “short attention span” or worse “short term memory loss.” We can be writing a paper and all of the sudden find ourselves on Instagram and it’s been an hour. There are two things at play here, the initial distraction versus the allocation of our time.We don’t realize attention is selective. Kendra Cherry defines selective attention as “Selective attention is the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment 

for a certain period of time.”(Cherry, 2019). We choose where our attention is focused and for how long. Most distractions while doing homework are due to changes in stimuli that catch our attention. Even when we are doing something we like, we can get distracted. We, as students, can get bored looking over our notes, they all look the same. However, when something on TV “catches our eye” it’s easy to get pulled away from those same old notes, especially if it’s more appealing. 

Scientists are aware that there are two sorts of approaches when it comes to processing incoming information, top-down and bottom-up. As a refresher, top-down processing is when we process the whole, then its parts, breaking down the big picture. Bottom-up processing is the opposite, we go step by step, reaching the conclusion at the end. In this study, the scientist noted the differences in two types of focus, willful and automatic (Whipps, 2007). They describe willful focus as “when you gaze at a piece of art”(Whipps, 2007). For us, willful focus is like an all night cram sesh, choosing to give all your attention on your homework, hopefully. You are choosing to focus on that. It releases top-down signals in the brain (Whipps, 2007). When automatic focus happens, it is like “a wailing siren snaps you to attention”(Whipps, 2007). It is like when you’re doing a BuzzFeed quiz and an ad comes up on the side and your eye gets drawn to it for a second. They associate automatic focus with bottom-up processing. They learned that these signals actually happen in different parts of the brain (Whipps, 2007).

The authors from this article describe a scientist’s study, Miller, that he did with monkeys to determine which part of the brain these signals engage. Miller had an image “pop-out” to a monkey to see which part of the brain would be affected and it was the parietal, but when the monkey was just looking for an object, the part of the brain that was affected was the prefrontal (Whipps, 2007). This means that our focus on an assignment and reading our textbooks can be very intense, but if a stimulus comes up, like a snapchat notification, it will affect a totally different part of the brain, so the distraction isn’t a measurement of how hard we are focusing or not, because it is not affecting that part of the brain. 

So whether or not we try to limit distractions, it still can be very hard to get rid of them. Say we don’t have our phone but we are on our computer researching and an ad pops up, our brain will be drawn to it. Even if the ad doesn’t concern us for long, it still takes away our attention. If we are driving and we turn the corner and suddenly there is a big red sign, that will pull our focus, especially if it is unexpected. Distractions aren’t because of our lack willful focus but because of automatic responses that occur because of them. It’s an interesting article. It’s good to know, at least in my opinion, that we use different parts of our brain for focus and distractions and it’s not completely our fault for getting distracted. What is our fault is the amount of time afterwards that we spend on the stimulus.

False Memories — Criminal Trials and Simple Errors in Recall

False Memory and criminal cases are not two things I would immediately put together, like the trial for the murder of Susan Nason. However, after a basic understanding, there’s no doubt that these two go hand in hand often. But false memories also can occur on a daily basis. That is why they are so interesting, it can lead to a murder trial, or just a random memory of an event that did not happen

False memories are defined as a belief about one’s past that is not correct. These usually are events that people are aware of. They hear it or read it and then a person believes it happens to them. Even some people can be tricked with images. Since memory is reconstructive, nothing is set in stone. We have some suggestibility and sometimes all we may need to verify whether an event happened, is just some familiarity. If a retrieval cue seems familiar to us, if we were exposed to it somehow before, we are more likely to assume the event happened. In the late 1980’s, a woman by the name of Eileen Franklin-Lipsker felt a surge of memories come back to her as she was looking at her daughter (Bryce, 2017). Lipsker was flooded with memories of her father raping her friend, Susan Nason, who was later found dead (Bryce, 2017). Lipsker called the cops and her father gets prosecuted. The court calls the one and only, Elizabeth Loftus, to act as an expert witness (Bryce, 2017). Elizabeth Loftus is a cognitive psychologist. She is an expert on memory.  Loftus asks Lipsker numerous times on how she recounted the memory and told the court that there were many versions (Bryce, 2017). Interestingly, her sibling testified, saying that “her sister had recovered the memories during hypnotherapy sessions that she had been attending to alleviate the depression she had suffered from since her teens”(Bryce, 2017). Loftus believes this is where the false memory came from, and with that, the court released Lipskers’ father (Bryce, 2017). False memories are usually created when there is a high level of suggestibility, and that makes perfect sense in Lipskers case. One may believe Lipskers’ memories were just repressed, because repressed memories happen, are forgotten, and remembered again. This does sound a lot like what happened here, but the fact that Loftus noted that Lipsker told the story of her remembering so many different ways, leads to the idea that maybe the event did not happen, especially since false memories can be implanted. Like her sister explained, Lipsker actually ‘recovered’ these memories in hypnotherapy, so the reliability of them is low. Since her testimony was based on the recollection that happened in her adult years, the case was thrown out. 

False Memory cases are not always that severe. Three experimenters, Seamon, Philbin, and Harrison, wanted to continue the work of Roediger and Loftus so they did some experiments. The experimenters walked kids around campus and either described some events for the students to imagine, or they actually acted some out (Laney and Loftus, 2013). Findings show that after two weeks, the subjects had trouble distinguishing what happened versus what they were told by the experimenters (Laney and Loftus, 2013). False memory can be easily acquired. 

I personally think both examples are so interesting. How can one just suddenly remember such incriminating evidence, but then have different recollections of how she remembered that information. If it were me, I would not be able to get that horrifying moment out of my mind. How even her sister knew when and where she was when that memory surfaced. False memory can be incriminating, or they can also mean nothing at all. The amount of suggestibility at play is astounding.

Will You Accept This Cognitive Rose?

Will you accept this cognitive rose? The Bachelor is a show hated by some, adored by millions. Now, I am not here to discuss the validity of the show, but I am here to discuss the cognitive principles in use. Bachelor producers want all the contestants attention on the lead (the main guy or girl). They want to create drama and “true” feelings as fast as possible. They take away all contestants phones. Their only source of entertainment comes from the lead or the other contestants. They have no way to talk to people who aren’t in this fantasy world, people who are connected with reality. This way the contestants only care about the lead. It is their soul focus. 

Attention is limited and can be easily distracted. Our brains only take in so much and if it is divided, the Bachelor producers would not have a show. Researchers know this too, it’s called selective attention, we get to choose what we pay attention too. There is also a phenomenon in visual attention called visual search. It takes us a longer amount of time to find our target when the numbers of distractors increase, so in Bachelor terms, less distractions equal more love, and consequently more drama between the contestants, as all of them have their sights set on the lead. 

Kendra Cherry writes a list of ways to increase attention and concentration. Number two on her list is removing all distractions. Like I said before, the producers take away the contestants phones. They can not even watch television. All of their time is spent talking to other contestants, who are dating the same person they are, or thinking about the lead. The producers make it impossible to think about anything else, as they are constantly filming. 

Cherry explains that one way to help increase attention is going to a calm location, or simply a different one. The Bachelor producers do just this, they bring the contestants to a beautiful house with pools and alcohol. This is different from their own house, maybe not the alcohol part, I don’t know what they do in their free time, but the location is different. She states “Another alternative is to seek out a calm location where you know you will be able to work undisturbed.”(Cherry, 2019)They take away their phones, bring them to a beautiful sunny location in california, in hopes to increase the contestants attention towards the Bachelor or Bachelorette. They know the science behind it, or they would be running their show much differently. They know their attention is goal driven, they are there for one thing and one thing only, the lead. 

It is not just this, she literally says to “focus on one thing at a time”(Cherry, 2019). The producers do not want any outside influence or distractions to affect the contestants. They do not want a contestants mother to fill their head with ideas that they can do better (which they can, but not the point of this article). 

I will admit, I love the Bachelor. I do think this is an interesting way of looking at Bachelor and I think it applies. They are doing specific things and it is obviously for a reason. They know what they’re doing, even if the contestants do not. They probably could do more, but I think they do enough to where it seems normal for the process.

Can Color Coding My Notes Really Get Me Better Grades?

Do you hate studying? Do you hate taking notes and never knowing which piece of information is where? Well, this commonly known study tip is actually useful, not just to make your notebook look pretty. 

The tip? Color coordinate certain things!! You can such as definitions, dates, and headings of topics. This way you can easily block out other notes when looking for a specific piece of information. If we highlight all definitions in yellow, we can skim our notes, only having to look for things in yellow to quickly find our definition, which also gives you a memory tool during test time. Certain color usage may make certain tidbits of information stick out amongst all of the other facts you have to know. 

This idea uses Broadbent’s filter theory, which he uses to explain selective attention. Kendra Cherry writes an article, reviewed by Dr. Steven Gans MD, and defines selective attention as “the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time”(Cherry, 2019). Color coding allows selective attention to happen easier, as our brain has a color to hone in on. Not only that, but NCBI notes that color “functions as a powerful information channel to the human cognitive system and has been found to play a significant role in enhancing memory performance”(Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). Using color in your notes can help you on your test, it literally helps the brain remember more information. It is even used to help patients with dyslexia (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). If something as simple as highlighting your notes can significantly help memorization and retention, why not do it? The two authors, Dzulkilfi and Mustafar, outline numerous studies in which color aids in memory and retention. They note that “The more attention focused on certain stimuli, the more chances of the stimuli to be transferred to a more permanent memory storage” and color is what brings attention to the stimuli (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). They write about a doctor who performed a study where they participants were tested on their recall of shapes and their color. It resulted in higher retention of the color than the shape (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). So maybe instead of circling and underlining notes, writing them in color pen or highlighting will result in better test grades. 

What do I think? I think that anything is worth trying. As I read on in the article, there is so much proven that color is extremely useful when it comes to retention, and highlighting doesn’t take long, so why not. We can focus in on it, use our selective attention to find it easier amongst all the notes, and it helps us remember. We can use the color association during the test and remember “Oh yeah, that was a date in pink” and that may give you visual clues. In college, any study tip is helpful and if it is as simple as coloring my notes, I will try it out. After all, it makes sense, when we are in a clothing store, we are gravitated towards colors we like, so, why not do the same with our notes, it is psychologically proven.