What is it about?

Attention allows us to interact with the world around us. It is required to read and learn, avoid distractions, perform complex actions like operating a vehicle, and make you aware of your surroundings to avoid danger, like a patch of ice on the sidewalk or a snake in the grass. This publication reviews over 70 scientific studies in five different research areas to understand how various aspects of one's lifestyle can impact how well your attention is functioning. The categories of interest include exercise, drug use, meditation, sleep, and different environmental/social factors. If I were to summarize the three most effective ways to improve attention based on the findings of this review, I would say that you should exercise a couple of times a week with at least moderate intensity, get quality sleep as often as possible, and incorporate meditation into your daily routine (which was one of the most consistent effects found across these studies!).

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Why is it important?

With the findings presented in this article, a person can make scientifically-supported changes to their lifestyle to help improve different aspects of attention. Some specific groups that may be interested in doing this include students who want to enhance their focus while studying, athletes that wish to improve their response time and alertness while under high-pressure scenarios, and any individual in a career where inattentiveness can have serious consequences (such as those operating heavy machinery, pilots, doctors, etc.). It also may be of specific interest to those who have disorders that impact attentional functioning or those hoping to ward off some of the decline in cognitive ability that comes with age.

Perspectives

The research topics I typically work on are pretty fundamental in nature, meaning that I am looking at how different aspects of attention are functioning at a very basic and non-applied level. Lots of jargon, statistics, and pictures of brains. This means that when I tell people what I study for my Ph.D., I don't always have a straightforward answer when they ask me 'how it applies to the real world'. This project is certainly more of a shift into that 'real world' space, as many of the conclusions in this review are directly actionable. For example: if you meditate consistently for a couple of weeks, you will probably find yourself getting less distracted. Working on this paper was a welcome change of pace, and I learned quite a bit! If you have any questions about this research or don't have access to the paper, send me a message!

Colin McCormick
Dalhousie University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Lifestyle factors and their impact on the networks of attention, Applied Cognitive Psychology, December 2021, Wiley, DOI: 10.1002/acp.3904.
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