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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 March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

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Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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