November 11, 2010
Aging Brains Notice More Irrelevant Information

The ability to filter out irrelevant info declines with age. So what sorts of technological aids can reduce the flow of irrelevant stimuli?

A University of Toronto study shows that visual attention ó the brainís ability to selectively filter unattended or unwanted information from reaching awareness ó diminishes with age, leaving older adults less capable of filtering out distracting or irrelevant information. Further, this age-related "leaky" attentional filter fundamentally impacts the way visual information is encoded into memory. Older adults with impaired visual attention have better memory for "irrelevant" information. The research, conducted by members of U of Tís Department of Psychology, will be published Wednesday, November 3 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

I've long thought it would help to create less cluttered workplaces, reduce lighting, put up more real walls rather than cubicle walls, and reduce sources of interrupt. The advantage of doing so probably increases with age. Aging minds are probably more easily distracted into taking note of many sort of off-topic things in an environment.

On a related note, people daydreaming or otherwise thinking about something besides their current activities are less happy.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects' thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," Killingsworth and Gilbert write. "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

The researchers believe the direction of causation is from mind-wandering to unhappiness, rather than the other way around.

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects' mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

"Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to 'be here now,'" Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. "These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind."

This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Stay on topic and stay in the present. You'll be happier if you can manage this.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 November 11 10:19 PM  Aging Brain Studies


Comments
PacRim Jim said at November 13, 2010 12:51 AM:

The difference should become even more apparent as the rate of information generation accelerates and the number of information sources increases.
The obvious solution is to switch from daytime work to late-night work, when distractions are fewer.

cbpelto said at November 13, 2010 11:45 AM:

TO: All
RE: Soooooooo.....Who....

...gets to decide what is 'irrelevant'?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[One man's datum is another man's irrelevance.]

cbpelto said at November 13, 2010 11:47 AM:

P.S. If you doubt my previous tagline....

....tell us all about human-caused global warming.

The False God said at November 13, 2010 12:17 PM:

"Reports" like these, regarding the "daydreaming is unhappy," make me question the sincerity of some of this research.

Will said at November 13, 2010 2:10 PM:

I seem to recall that older brains, having seen, heard, and done things of a related nature before, require less cognitive resources for most tasks. Are you sure the old codgers aren't more bored than distracted.

The Borris said at November 13, 2010 2:25 PM:

""Reports" like these, regarding the "daydreaming is unhappy," make me question the sincerity of some of this research."

Really?

If you knew what I was day-dreaming a minute ago, you'd have been quite un-happy about the
future of your daughters and small pets. Now - I'm off to walmart to pick up my meds. Been
a while. I think I'll walk; its un-seasonably warm tonight.

Anonymous said at December 7, 2010 12:52 AM:

But wasn't there another experiment that showed that a person's decision could be determined by an MRI machine before a person had reached that conclusion? So it is possible that a person's unconscious unhappiness brings daydreaming, and that brings conscious unhappiness?

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