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Distraction Can Be Good For Learning, Psychologists Surprisingly Find

Distraction Can Be Good For Learning, Psychologists Surprisingly Find
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We know from the early age that the best way to study is to sit in a quiet room, to have nobody to bother you and to completely focus on your assignment. It is quite true, but not for all the situations. For some occasions, distractions are not so bad. For example, if you know that you will have some distractions during your exam, it is better to learn the material under the same or similar distracting factors. Let us see what scientists have discovered about this.

Science speaks

The research on this matter began long ago. In 1999, there was an experiment with forty students participating. They were asked to read certain text and to complete a written test on it later. Half of the group read it in a silent room; the other half did it in a noisy one. Then both groups got two tests. They took one test in silence and another one with different distractions. The results showed that those students who had studied the information in silence, did the test in silence better. And those who had read the article in a noisy room showed better results within a noisy context.

Another fun experiment was carried out by researchers and  scuba divers. Divers were asked to learn words while they were actually scuba diving. Afterwards they were also told to take two tests – one underwater and one on land. You have probably already guessed the results: they did better underwater.

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And the most recent experiment was conducted in 2015 using computers. A group of students had training to do a task on a computer. Then there was a test. During both training and the test some of the students got additional task to count numbers on a monitor. The results show that those students who got this additional task only during the test did very poorly; and those who had to count numbers during the training as well did well.

There have been lot’s of similar experiments over the years starting in 1930, when scientists became interested in this topic. All the results have proved that the surroundings and a person’s state influence how well the information is remembered.

The role of context and state

These experiments all prove that context-dependent memory actually works very well. Context-dependent memory means that you can remember things better if you are in the same context (environment, room, same circle of people) as you were when you got this information.

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Another thing that influences students’ performance is their personal state during learning and testing. This is called state-dependent-memory. If, let’s say, you are well and healthy during the learning but you get ill before your exams and vise versa, your performance probably will not be as good as it could be. The states can be different: you can be hungover, depressed, too excited, sad, nervous, etc. These all are distractions that influence your learning.

Distraction and procrastination are not the same

The concept of positive influence of distractions can be misinterpreted, though. Some of you may think, “well, I can check my social profiles while studying and then do the same during the test and I will do well”.

So, for those of you who thought “Finally, now I have a scientific proof to do nothing”, we have bad news: you cannot simply procrastinate and call it a distraction. If you are, for example, play Angry Birds instead of writing an assignment, it is not good; you need to fight such harmful habits when studying.

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We are talking about positive distractions; the distractions that will help you during your exams. Playing video games or watching movies are definitely not some of those.

Conclusion

So, the universal truth did not change – the distractions are still bad for your studying. It is still better to find some quiet place, to get rid of smartphones and other tempting gadgets and concentrate on your studying completely. The scientists just proved one more time that the context and state of a student makes a difference on their performance.

If you know that you will be distracted by your college mates during the test, better study when you are with friends, for example. Try to create the same or similar conditions that will surround you during your test, and you will do good. And try to be in the same emotional state while both studying and passing your exams –  that should help, as well. And remember that these context and state matters can only be of some help; they will not do the whole job for you. The most important thing remains – knowledge. Study hard and try not to only memorize things but to understand them, as well. That will help you to remember them for years and not only till your exam ends.

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Featured photo credit: Distracted Child Studying via amenclinics.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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