3 Smart Things: What You Might Not Know About Attention

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1. We gradually become less attentive as we age—and not just because we stop giving a damn. The phenomenon is due to a shrinking “useful field of view,” the feature of visual attention that helps us recognize at a glance what’s important to focus on. Studies show that kids have a similarly limited field of view, hindering their ability to register the complete visual world around them.

2. TSA officials aren’t particularly attentive searchers. One experiment found that airport scanner operators were just 6 percent better than untrained test subjects at spotting hidden objects. Another study found that the fewer contraband items that had been discovered in a given time period, the more likely operators were to miss hidden objects. As a result, some airports have started regularly inserting images of forbidden swag onto operators’ screens.

3. Refocusing someone’s attention can have concrete physical effects. One such example: The military is using VR to help treat third-degree burns. In a study, putting patients in a virtual snowy environment was shown to have a pain-relief effect similar to that of morphine.

Adapted from How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction, by Stefan van der Stigchel, out March 12


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