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Distraction Can Be Good For Learning, Psychologists Surprisingly Find

Distraction Can Be Good For Learning, Psychologists Surprisingly Find

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 September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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