How Distractions Can Alter Your Memory?

We live in a world full of distractions and multitasking. All those distractions might alter our memory. Think about push notifications as something that was originally designed to remind us about important events, while now notifications have the opposite purpose, they distract us from the important things we do daily. Although many distractions are only momentary, they are enough to cause great consequences. They may even alter our memories and perception of reality.

Still, our brain is able to process a lot of information, each second filtering the important things and assessing what’s useful as well as what’s not. While you are reading this, your brain is filtering the important things. You may be listening to music or some conversation in the room. However, when processing important information, we need to be focused completely. We know the importance of paying attention and disregarding distractions when performing activities such as driving, because in one moment, we may have to make a life or death decision. That being said, this is why everyone is talking about the dangers of texting when driving.

We are praising multitasking, but our brain is not wired for multitasking. We can multitask but we will not be able to do a great job while handling more than one task at the same time. Even if you need only 10 minutes to respond to an email while writing an important report, you will need an additional 25 minutes to focus back on the report.

According to a group of researchers from Ohio State University, distractions will not only slow you down and hurt your performance, but they will also alter your memory in a way that you will not even know that your memory is incorrect.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Researchers presented 26 participants with different tasks and different distractions, trying to measure their perception of reality and memory compared to what they were truly presented with.

Most of the time, they were able to ignore the distractions. In contrast, 20% to 30% of the time participants made an error in their perception when they were confident that they are not mistaken in their reporting. Some errors were only subtle, however still present.

Jiageng Chen, the lead author of the study said:

“It still suggests, even if you’re not making the big errors, there can still be subtle, profound effects (from a) distractor.”

Jiageng Chen raised the question about the memory that we have.

“Could it be that, if distraction happens with the right timing, you might adopt elements from the distraction into the thing you think you remember?”

Incorporating distractions into reported perception is a phenomenon that can help us sort memory glitched from everyday doubts if we locked the door or not to more critical and important concerns such as eyewitness testimony.

Julie Golomb, a senior author of the study said:

“In the real world, you don’t just have colored squares, you have all sorts of objects, dimensions, sizes … the stakes go way up. But if we’re susceptible to making these errors, if we can mix up something as simple as two solid colored squares, what’s that mean when we have a whole incredibly cluttered roll of information?”

That’s why it’s important to stay focused on one task at a time without trying to conquer all tasks at once. Contrary to popular thinking and operating in today’s modern world, you may actually be inhibiting your ability and being counterproductive! You might think you remember everything from the latest meeting but if you were on your phone and email communicating with other employees you might be missing something important or you might be hearing something different than what was presented.

written by Elvira Barucija

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