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Easily Distracted People May Have 'Too Much Brain' 246

Posted by timothy
from the so-so-true dept.
fysdt writes with this excerpt from New Scientist: "Those who are easily distracted from the task in hand may have 'too much brain.' So says Ryota Kanai and his colleagues at University College London, who found larger than average volumes of grey matter in certain brain regions in those whose attention is readily diverted. To investigate distractibility, the team compared the brains of easy and difficult-to-distract individuals. [Abstract] They assessed each person's distractibility by quizzing them about how often they fail to notice road signs, or go into a supermarket and become sidetracked to the point that they forget what they came in to buy. The most distractible individuals received the highest score."
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Easily Distracted People May Have 'Too Much Brain'

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  • Flamebait Summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday May 08, 2011 @12:46PM (#36064148) Journal

    With only a brief glance at TFA this is a Flamebait summary.

    It's the age-old distinction between a low-grade machine that is resistant to abuse and a high-grade machine that is vulnerable to abuse.

    The summary unfairly rewards low-grade abuse-resistant machines/brains.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2011 @12:50PM (#36064184)

      The summary unfairly rewards low-grade abuse-resistant machines/brains.

      It should've been "Focused, Productive People May Have 'Not Enough Brain'.

      BTW:

      FIRST POST!

      • Re:Flamebait Summary (Score:5, Interesting)

        by somersault (912633) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:09PM (#36064332) Homepage Journal

        Hah, indeed. I used to not notice my teacher calling my name in early primary school because I was so focused on my schoolwork. She encouragingly gave me the nickname "cloth ears". I can still be oblivious to things happening around me when I'm focused, though I am more likely to notice if someone says my name at least. I'd rather be able to focus like that than have everything distract me. Especially if I'm reading a book at home or something like that.

        I was working in a busy office for the last couple of years with people often trying to get my attention, and my ability to focus on work dropped drastically even when they were being quiet. Now that I'm in a quieter office, things are improving again, because I'm no longer anticipating distractions.

        With stuff like observing road signs, you can train yourself to be more attentive to them too. There's not that much point reading them every time on roads you know well, though being aware of possible new signs is useful.

        • "With stuff like observing road signs, you can train yourself to be more attentive to them too. There's not that much point reading them every time on roads you know well, though being aware of possible new signs is useful."

          It's probably worth checking the traffic, though:

          http://xkcd.com/356/ [xkcd.com]

      • Re:Flamebait Summary (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hyperquantization (804651) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:10PM (#36064340)

        The summary unfairly rewards low-grade abuse-resistant machines/brains.

        It should've been "Focused, Productive People May Have 'Not Enough Brain'.

        The article reconciles what you see as a discrepancy with the line:

        ...the brain's grey matter is pruned of neurons in order to work more efficiently.

        He suggests that a greater volume of grey matter may indicate a less mature brain, perhaps reflecting a mild developmental malfunction.

        • That's not a reconciliation. That's an unfair theory that assumes the extra grey matter is unwanted. He could just as easily theorize that "Some mechanism is helping these brains keep more of their flexibility and childlike wonder and curiosity." OR "This extra grey matter might allow mature brains to better function in a chaotic environment, whereas a normal adult brain tends to get "flustered" when routines change."

          Of course I just made all that up, but you get the point. He begins his theory

          • by hyperquantization (804651) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @03:17PM (#36065270)

            That's not bias. It's called context and the Scientific Method: the theory that the article is basing its conclusions off is as the article states. Our understanding of the human brain is rather pitiful, so claiming a theory here as "unfair" is unfair to the theory itself.

            Don't assume bias simply because a theoretical conclusion that is made doesn't agree with your own hypotheses. Science is full of opinions that evolve and shift, and this may be no exception. However, taking insult based upon a theory is exactly what ruins Science as a field; ignoring models because they violate "political correctness" is just bad Science. Maybe PC needs to step it up and join ranks for a paradigm shift.

      • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:47PM (#36064590)

        It should've been "Focused, Productive

        Oooh, Shiny!

    • by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:49PM (#36064610) Homepage Journal

      This is something that has been known for a very long time. The NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) was pretty much founded on the premise that intelligent kids become disruptive in schools because they're bored witless (ie: become easily distracted) with the humdrum that is necessary for everyone else.

      What this article (and summary) should be focussing on is not the fact that intelligent people can be distracted but on why society is under-utilizing their capabilities to such an extent that boredom is possible. Once a problem has been identified and a solution worked on for a specific sector (in this case kids) for 4 decades or more, it is surely not acceptable for the problem to be allowed to fester in all other parts of society. It is surely even less acceptable for researchers to not be aware that solutions already exist but aren't being used.

      • by ardle (523599) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @02:01PM (#36064732)

        What this article (and summary) should be focussing on is not the fact that intelligent people can be distracted but on why society is under-utilizing their capabilities to such an extent that boredom is possible

        Society under-utilizes gifted people because otherwise gifted people would become some kind of "elite" ;-)

        • by Jawnn (445279)

          Society under-utilizes gifted people because otherwise gifted people would become some kind of "elite" ;-)

          You say that as if some people might think "gifted or elite" might be a bad thing. Oh, wait...., we're talking about Texas again, aren't we.

        • Re:Flamebait Summary (Score:5, Interesting)

          by grcumb (781340) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @05:37PM (#36066272) Homepage Journal

          Society under-utilizes gifted people because otherwise gifted people would become some kind of "elite" ;-)

          Elite has everything to do with privilege and nothing whatsoever to do with being gifted (in the sense of higher intelligence, anyway).

          I went to high school in a neighbourhood that had one of my city's most elite neighbourhoods on one side and a working class ghetto (home to a number of mafia families and one motorcycle gang) on the other. The 'elite' students were better fed, better dressed, better spoken and better behaved, for the most part, but if they were smarter, they hid it well.

          Education and opportunity may give you a head start in life, but don't for a second try to pretend that these advantages somehow make you smarter or better than anyone else. Harvard may demand you work at a higher level, but its cachet is that you can make friends with rich people, and with luck some of that rich will rub off on you.

          The highly intelligent are usually the opposite of elite: They are so caught up with ideas, and so desperate for the company of people who actually understand them, that they are willing to overlook most of the social markers (accent, clothing, income, residence) that most people use to grade each other.

          Whenever I hear the term 'intellectual elite', I wonder if such a thing is even possible, because anyone stupid enough to hang that term on a group has to be lying.

          • I've always sort of equated "intellectual elite" with "pseudo-intellectual". After all, the smarter someone really is, the more they should realize how little they actually know compared with how much there is to know. Even a rocket scientist can't do brain surgery and a neurosurgeon isn't likely to successfully design a working rocket.
            Keyword though is "should".. there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.
      • by Jaime2 (824950)
        The article doesn't say that more intelligent people are more easily distracted. It says that a specific region of the brain has more grey matter in children than in adults. When some adults fail to prune the extra grey matter, they tend be more more easily distracted than those who develop normally.
        • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @04:06PM (#36065566)

          The article doesn't say that more intelligent people are more easily distracted. It says that a specific region of the brain has more grey matter in children than in adults. When some adults fail to prune the extra grey matter, they tend be more more easily distracted than those who develop normally.

          To paraphrase: if your brain doesn't rot in the usual way, you won't become a perfect cog.

          • by Jaime2 (824950)
            Of course that's because formation and/or elimination of synapses is the perfect definition of "brain rot", rather than a normal part of maturing, and the ability to pay attention is strongly correlated with being a "perfect cog". If anything, I'd say the opposite is true; easily distracted people should be far more pliable than those who have the ability to focus their attention on something.

            It's interesting how many people react emotionally to this article. It looks to me like pretty boring science th
      • Society for the most part has always punished intelligent people unless that intelligence is coupled with wealth or power.
      • by Kjella (173770)

        This is something that has been known for a very long time. The NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) was pretty much founded on the premise that intelligent kids become disruptive in schools because they're bored witless (ie: become easily distracted) with the humdrum that is necessary for everyone else.

        A bored mind is an easily distracted mind, that you really don't need a scientist to tell you. But if you gave them challenges relative to their intelligence or a different kind of challenge where intelligence wouldn't matter much, are the intelligent more easily distracted than the others? The answer to that is not obvious.

        • by jd (1658)

          The evidence gathered by the NAGC (and as a former teacher for them I can say I saw this in person) is that certainly for hyper-intelligent children if you give them challenges relative to their intelligence they are NOT more easily distracted. In fact, I observed the opposite. They demonstrate a focus that is awe-inspiring. The evidence for adults is much slimmer, but I'd argue that there's no reason to assume that adult brains would be significantly different.

      • by pspahn (1175617)

        why society is under-utilizing their capabilities to such an extent that boredom is possible.

        From my own experience, public schools simply do not have the resources available to foster academic growth for these kids. A disproportionate amount of money, personnel, and time are spent dealing with the opposite type of student.

        Basically, less SPED, more GATE.

    • by chebucto (992517)

      I don't really follow your reasoning.

      The summary describes the test and gives the results. I didn't see any strong value judgment in there, and I certainly didn't see any 'reward' (whatever that would be) for 'low-grade brains'.

      A study found that there is a positive correlation between larger brains and distraction. Take from that what you will.

    • by Jaime2 (824950)
      The summary might lean towards flame bait, but the article suggests that "more brain" is the result of a developmental disorder, not an indication of a smarter person. They suggest that the natural developmental process is to start with a lot of neuron and to gradually prune the unnecessary ones.
      • Even that is not so simple!

        Moar Brainz!

        There are articles wondering if Ashkenazi Jews strengthen the processes which ""correlate" to higher intelligence. In a fantastically confusing mix of Nature vs Nurture vs Old Boys Clubs, comes the hypothesis that five hundred years of "greater world neglect" produced a rare risky genetic gamble of extra neurons for certain types of processing, paired with a culture that valued learning and study.

        http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/culture/features/1478/ [nymag.com]

        The article is some 2

    • by turing_m (1030530)

      The summary unfairly rewards low-grade abuse-resistant machines/brains.

      In lots of ways, real life rewards the high-grade machine that is vulnerable to abuse. e.g. if I can make sound investment decisions or find interesting and well enough paid work, I'm happy to forget what I came to the supermarket for. That's what shopping lists are for, and why I write them. To be someone who can't tell when the talking heads on the financial channels are full of s***, or condemned to flip burgers for the term of my na

    • by smitty97 (995791)

      With only a brief glance at TFA ...

      Were you distracted from reading the whole thing?

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @12:47PM (#36064164) Homepage Journal

    Wonderful excuse - my brain, it's just too big, that's why I can't concentrate on anything, the tasks are too small and insignificant, what can you do? Get me a real problem to solve - like world peace or something, then maybe it'll keep me focused for a while.

    • by tsa (15680)

      World peace is a theoretically simple problem, It only requires people to be friendly to each other. I was gonna post a real problem but I was distracted by a butterfly.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by roman_mir (125474)

        I can be totally friendly with you while still waging a war against you to take your resources, try again.

        • You work in customer service, don't you?

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            Sort of, I am doing my own stuff.

            • by lennier (44736)

              Gaius Julius, is that you? Quit messing around with your Mediterranean anti-piracy campaign and that Egyptian girlfriend of yours and get back to being Vice President of Marketing with the Seventh Sales Legion in Paris.

              And don't you dare try to bill that surprise visit to the head office in Rome as "travel expenses".

      • It's a very simple problem, peace will be achieved in the world when there is only one person left.

        In the end, there can be only one.

    • by plopez (54068)

      Nah, that's not ADHD or ADD. It's more like a manic episode.

    • by $0.02 (618911)

      my brain is bigger than your hey did i forget to post as anon coward what's for dinner, a yes some hot grits never mind the point was a what a hot chick just past by sorry the point was my brain is bigger than hey what the green thing over there

  • Osama bin Ladin used have that problem but its been solved.

  • by symes (835608)

    While I am all in favour of a decent bit of brain research, I'm kind of left wodering what the use of this work is. It niether seems to offer any great theoretical insight and nor does it seem to have practical application. Unless we are about to start shaving off a bit of gray matter from those who... oh look at that over...

    • Re:And...? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:58PM (#36064690) Homepage Journal

      The practical application, IMHO, is for society to utilize intelligent people more for tasks that demand high intelligence. Distractability == boredom. In the Age of Enlightenment, this involved funding the highly intelligent to go make use of that intelligence. In the modern era, serious research is often confined to those who stay in academia - and, even then, with universities increasingly funded by corporations to perform all the menial work, the condition of research is pathetic.

      What we need are dedicated facilities for the highly intelligent to push them to the limits of their mental capacity, funded not to produce specific results but to see what happens. "Blue sky" from an outside perspective, but not necessarily to the researchers themselves who would be free to do what they wanted. I absolutely guarantee the rewards of such a venture for society would vastly outstrip the costs, and the rewards for the intelligent to be in a meaningful environment rather than a mundane one would be beyond price.

      • by Cassander (251642)

        What we need are dedicated facilities for the highly intelligent to push them to the limits of their mental capacity, funded not to produce specific results but to see what happens.

        You mean like google?

      • by Kjella (173770)

        The reason you don't hear about all the day jobs and side jobs those people had is that it's not very interesting that they shuffled horse manure at the stables. Those that didn't were mostly in academia, with only some rare exceptions having patrons or own wealth - that was mostly in art, not science. Even if a lot of what the universities do is applied research for corporations, just look at how many take a degree these days. There was few that could spend years training a skill before even starting to wo

      • by nog_lorp (896553)
        Thank you! Dull witted folks running the world continue to fuck over the more intelligent students. How about we respond by NOT FUCKING DOING THAT ANYMORE?
      • by lennier (44736)

        In the Age of Enlightenment, this involved funding the highly intelligent to go make use of that intelligence.

        Yes, and after the Manhattan Project, it involved funding the highly intelligent to not make use of that intelligence.

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        with universities increasingly funded by corporations to perform all the menial work, the condition of research is pathetic

        The worst part is that researchers spend so much time filing for grant money. It's like politicians who spend half of their term campaigning for the next term.

  • This is what I will be telling my boss from now on
  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:06PM (#36064310) Homepage

    Evolutionary speaking, having ADD would be a fantastic asset to have. It would allow to be more in-tuned with your environment for survival. The acute ability to become the hunter rather than the hunted. Now, having ADD in the office is a disability. It sucks :(

    • by SomePgmr (2021234)
      "Honey you came back without food again? That's the fourth time this week, what happened?"

      "Me see butterfly, me sorr.. ooo fire!"
      • That's a little unfair. When hunting what one would consider a "distraction from the task at hand" becomes an advantage. People with ADD/ADHD are simply able to focus more quickly on whatever piques their interest. Noticing a low-hanging branch or an easier prey or a sharp rock in the path i.e. sudden obstacles and potential opportunities in a world full of organized chaos that would be missed by those focused on just "getting that one animal". "Can't see the trees for the forest" is another way of putt
        • by adolf (21054)

          That's a little unfair. When hunting what one would consider a "distraction from the task at hand" becomes an advantage. People with ADD/ADHD are simply able to focus more quickly on whatever piques their interest. Noticing a low-hanging branch or an easier prey or a sharp rock in the path i.e. sudden obstacles and potential opportunities in a world full of organized chaos that would be missed by those focused on just "getting that one animal".

          So, with ADD: You're running after the wildebeest, get distract

    • by PPH (736903)

      Now, having ADD in the office is a disability.

      Not necessarily. If you can compartmentalize your job, keeping an eye or ear on your surroundings, an open news web page, Usenet feed, etc. can help you pick up some interesting information.

      Its called multi-tasking. I do it all the time. I can read or think about something sitting in the coffee shop while subconsciously(?) watching people coming and going or picking up snippets of conversations (I've generated some useful investment ideas this way and spotted some hot looking babes worthy of further atte

  • by MrQuacker (1938262) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @01:12PM (#36064352)
    or go into a supermarket and become sidetracked to the point that they forget what they came in to buy

    Smoke a few bowls, and you too can forget what you went into the supermarket to get.

    • Marijuana makes my brain bigger.
    • As I understand it, however, higher brain function remains unaffected. It's a simple process:

      - I am in a supermarket.
      - I am high, and hungry.
      - Supermarkets sell a wide variety of savoury and sweet snacks.
      - I am here to buy savoury and sweet snacks.
      - Absolutely £20 of Doritto's and chocolate Hobnobs doesn't look suspicious! That clerk is just giggling at a funny joke... Maybe... Oh crap he knows... Maaaaaaan that security guard is watching me! I probably reek of the stuff! Act cool man, act
  • This will inevitably devolve into "I can't pay attention because I'm so smart", much like "i can only eat mac n' cheese because i'm a supertaster". Time to charge-up the taser ...
    • by nog_lorp (896553)
      Fuck off. How about "I can't pay attention because I learned this 4 years ago and am thinking about much more advanced topics?" It's been 'an excuse' forever. Now it is backed by science, and you 'conventional thinkers' can SHOVE IT and go dig a ditch.
  • Failing to see road signs is a completely different phenomena than forgetting why you went into the store. I rarely miss a street sign, but with significant frequency I forget why I went to the store.
    • by nog_lorp (896553)
      Actually they seem like indicators of opposite behaviors. Being preoccupied so as to fail to see your surroundings is the opposite of what one usually thinks of in the case of ADD.
  • I think I may have this prob...

    um, what were we talking about?

  • That's supposed to explain marketing/sales people whose attention span ins measured in seconds?

  • "It was totally unintentional; my superabundance of grey matter causes me to be easily distracted." (Likely followed by the sound of frying pan meeting grey matter.)
  • If he's examining the grey matter of easily distracted people, I assume he's doing this post-mortem... and it would make sense that these easily distracted people were then motorcycle riders who should have perhaps taken the bus.
  • by RKBA (622932) on Sunday May 08, 2011 @02:41PM (#36065024)
    Marijuana must truly be a "mind expanding" drug then, because the more stoned I am the more easily distracted and forgetful I am. :-|
  • Apparently my cheap-ass university doesn't have download rights to the original article in Neuroscience, but my guess is that the weak point is in the paper-and-pencil questionarre. The problem is that they aren't asking people how often they get distracted... they're asking people how often they _remember_ getting distracted.

    An equally valid hypothesis is that big-brained people remember getting distracted more than small-brained people.

    Again, I haven't RTFA so maybe they deal with it. They talk about inheritability of the 'distraction' scores, but that just means that it's something either genetic or social. In fact, there could instead be a correlation between 'big brained' and 'more honest'.

  • Oh, so that explains... wait, what were we talking about?
  • In the US, we have far too many meaningless road signs. So if I don't notice one, it's because I've prioritized and chosen to pay attention to something else in stead. That doesn't make me distracted, it makes me discriminate.

    • by PPH (736903)

      I agree. They have "traffic fines double" in school zones, in work zones, near emergency vehicles, etc. I think they could save money and visual clutter by just doubling all the traffic fines and skip those signs. Then, in the few remaining areas where this doesn't apply, put up signs that say, "Traffic fines half price here".

  • If you need a reference [media-imdb.com].

  • This is one reason the 'only using 10% of the brain!1' thing completely misses the point.

    Put someone who is totally in the zone, producing great, doing brilliant work, in an active MRI and what will you see? They're using tiny focused (no pun here) portions of their brain. The worse they're doing, the more they're flailing, the more of the brain is lit up. After a certain point, having more less capable brain doesn't seem to be a great thing.

  • I'm so distractable (sp?) it's ridiculous. I think way faster than most people. When people are talking to me about something that doesn't require a lot of attention, I think I listen with a "sub-process" in my brain and daydream for a few seconds, then catch up with the "sub process," then repeat until they're finished talking. One of the few people I've met who thinks and talks at the same speed as me is my company's CEO. I have to remember not to slow myself down for him because when I do I can tell he's

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