Easily distracted? You could have low memory capacity


Based on a study of 84 students divided into four separate experiments, University of Oregon (UO) researchers found that students with high memory storage capacity were clearly better able to ignore distractions and stay focussed on their assigned tasks.
Principal investigator Edward K. Vogel, a UO professor of psychology, compared working memory to a computer's random-access memory (RAM) rather than the hard drive's size -- the higher the RAM, the better the processing abilities.

With more RAM, he said, students were better able to ignore distractions. This notion surfaced in a 2005 paper in the journal Nature by Vogel and colleagues.
In experiments with some variations in approaches, students' brain activity was monitored using electroencephalography (EEG) while they studied images on a computer screen, recognising a shape with a missing component, and then identifying the object after it moved simply to another location or amid distractions.

Using a "task irrelevant probe" -- a 50 millisecond-long flash of light -- Vogel and a colleague were able to determine where exactly a subject's attention was focussed.
All of the subjects were able to quickly and accurately identify the targets when the objects moved around the screen, but as distracting components were added some maintained accuracy while others diverted their attention and slipped in performing the assigned tasks.

These findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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