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Subliminal Distractions

January 23, 2007

The most insidious distractions may be the ones we’re not aware of.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The big impact of tiny distractions. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you ask your kids to turn down the TV while you’re doing your taxes, be careful: You might make more mistakes if you can barely hear it at all. This according to Boston University psychologist Takeo Watanabe and his colleagues. They asked volunteers to work on a simple computer task, while distracting dots darted around on the screen. And the volunteers performed worst when the distractions were too small to consciously notice. Brain imaging studies showed that these subliminal distractions mostly bypassed the prefrontal cortex, which filters out irrelevant information, and went straight to the brain’s visual centers.

TAKEO WATANABE (Boston University):
As a result, the motion was processed, and resulted in disrupting the task performance more greatly.

HIRSHON:
So muting distractions without eliminating them may actually hurt productivity. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.