Introverts the world over ought to be jumping for joy at the news. Finally, a real reason to ignore anything your little, antisocial heart desires. So says a new study published in the US which finally answers the age-old question: does getting better at ignoring things makes you more efficient?
Researchers in the US have found that when people are told to ignore certain information, it makes them more efficient at performing particular visual tasks with the concept being if you know which non-important information to avoid, you can better hone your focus.
A Stanford study showed that an influx of irrelevant information (*cough Social Media*cough) caused participants to be bogged down, paying a mental price so to speak, but researchers with Johns Hopkins University hypothesized that when we’re given adequate time to learn what we should ignore, it ultimately helps us search faster and more efficiently.
“Individuals who explicitly ignore distracting information improve their visual search performance, a critical skill for professional searchers, like radiologists and airport baggage screeners,” said one of the researchers, Corbin A. Cunningham from Johns Hopkins University. “This work has the potential to help occupations that rely on visual search by informing future training programs.”
The findings, published in Psychological Science, show that when the participants were given a color to ignore, initially the visual clue slowed their reaction time down. But, after being told to ignore the color consistently throughout multiple tests, they started identifying their target letter significantly faster than participants who weren’t told to ignore a specific color.
“Attention is usually thought of as something that enhances the processing of important objects in the world,” said one of the team, psychologist Howard Egeth. “This study … highlights the importance of active suppression of those competing stimuli. It’s what I think of as the dark side of attention.”
Ooo. The dark side. Sounds sexy.
Coincidentally, last year, a study by neuroscientists at Brown University found that our brains achieve “optimal inattention” when we successfully ignore things, such as sensations of pain.
“This is about the mechanisms the brain is using to block out distracting things in the environment,” said researcher Stephanie Jones.
Even more, another study by researchers at the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke mapped the circuits in mice brains that are believed to be responsible for ignoring extraneous distractions. If these circuits stop functioning properly, scientists think we don’t know what to ignore and – accordingly – also don’t know what to pay attention to.
“We typically use a very small percentage of incoming sensory stimuli to guide our behavior, but in many neurological disorders the brain is overloaded,” said one of the researchers, Michael Halassa. “It gets a lot of sensory input that is not well-controlled because this filtering function might be broken.”
Any parent of a child with Autism should certainly feel gratified in hearing that important information. Especially after being told repeatedly by other parents, “Why don’t you just tell them to stop?!”
It’s okay. I support your choices. Go ahead, ignore those f*****s.