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Visual Distractions May Hamper Working Memory

Visual Distractions May Hamper Working Memory

New research suggests the ability to ignore distraction is often associated with a better working memory.

Specifically, investigators from Simon Fraser University discovered differences in an individual’s working memory capacity correlate with the brain’s ability to actively ignore distraction.

A research team led by psychology professor Dr. John McDonald and doctoral student John Gaspar used EEG technology to determine that “high-capacity” individuals (those who perform well on memory tasks) are able to suppress distractors.

Conversely, “low-capacity” individuals are unable to suppress distractors in time to prevent them from grabbing their attention.

The suppressed memory capabilities has implications for individuals challenged with attention deficit disorders. Academic performance and individual safety concerns may be influenced by the attention deficits.

The research has been published in the journal PNAS.

“Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments, and has been associated with attentional deficits, so these results have important implications,” said McDonald, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience.

The study is linked to two previous papers in 2009 and 2014 in which McDonald’s research team showed that when people search the visual world for a particular object, the brain has distinct mechanisms for both locking attention onto relevant information and for suppressing irrelevant information.

The study is the first to relate these specific visual-search mechanisms to memory and show that the suppression mechanism is absent in individuals with low memory capacity.

Source: Simon Fraser University
 
Distracted student photo by shutterstock.

Visual Distractions May Hamper Working Memory

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Visual Distractions May Hamper Working Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/02/25/visual-distractions-may-harm-short-term-memory/99623.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Feb 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Feb 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.