A new neurology book, “Progress in Brain Research”, provides evidence that the greater tendency to distraction in older brains might bring creative benefits (though most creative work is done while young).
“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”
I think distractibility involves trade-offs. Makes you better at some things such as dealing with a lot of people in a very interweaved way. But a whole lot of work requires single minded concentration to go through all the steps required. A lot of software development work requires ability to go through large stretches of concentration to build up logical models in your mind. Getting distracted sets you back.
For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.
When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.
Dr. Carson argues her research shows that students who are less able to filter out unwanted sources of stimuli score as more creative. But are they ultimately more productive? In other words, does this enhanced creativity pay off for them? Do they make more scientific discoveries or technological breakthroughs? Do they succeed more often in creating great advertising campaigns?
We can find plenty of examples of people accomplishing great achievements through hyper-focusing their talents on how to solve a single problem while ignoring distractions from their environment. I suspect we have a surplus of distractible people and a shortage of people who can ignore distractions. Maybe we could make better use of distractible people by putting them in workplaces where they'll encounter fewer distractions. Then maybe their creativity and the need to concentrate can find a better synergy.
Distractibility reminds me of Low Latent Inhibition. Possibly there are different kinds of distractibility and some kinds are more productive than others.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2008 May 20 05:35 PM Brain Aging|