The brain can get distracted
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock The brain isn’t always inefficient when doing two things at once—but when it comes to higher-order thinking, distraction can severely impact the brain’s ability to stay on task. “The main limit arises when both of the tasks require attention—for example, we can carry out a conversation while walking, but if you were walking over a complicated, uneven, and dangerous path, it would be difficult to carry out an involved conversation at the same time,” says psychology professor Steven J. Luck, PhD, director of the Center for Mind & Brain at the University of California, Davis. This is the main reason distracted driving, such as while chatting on a cell phone, is so dangerous. We can’t see the other person on the phone, we might have trouble hearing them, and our brain has to imagine their environment. Driving is often automatic, so “we can do a pretty good job of talking on a cell phone and driving much of the time, but we have problems when the driving suddenly requires attention, for example, when something unusual happens, such as another driver coming to a sudden stop,” Dr. Luck says. Find out how to recognize 12 signs of adult ADHD that go beyond everyday distraction.
The internet is info overload for the brain
Africa Studio/Shutterstock The brain’s problem with distractions and multitasking could be a reason why studies show too much smartphone and Internet use isn’t good for the noggin. “Technology can be tremendously helpful, but allowing a constant influx of information and distractions can promote an ADHD-like state that exhausts your brain and erodes deep thinking and efficient information absorption,” Dr. Chapman says. “Watch out for ‘Google Brain’ where you constantly look up more and more information—this activity can gobble up mental energy.” Instead, take regular short breaks from screen time and shut off alerts, especially when working on important tasks. Don’t miss these other surprising ways technology is making us stupid.
“Smarter” people may just be better at filtering distractions
Katia Fonti/Shutterstock With this thinking on distractions and the brain comes another theory of intelligence—that smart people’s are just better at ignoring stuff that’s distracting. A study from the University of Rochester found that people with higher IQs were better at detecting the movements of small objects on a screen, but worse at detecting movements of larger, background-like objects. This may be because in nature, large movements like the wind in the trees are irrelevant, but the harder-to-see animal about to pounce is more important. So in our info-laden modern world, the ability to better focus might give some people an edge. Check out these people with higher IQs than Einstein.