Week 7 Monday reads

Last week’s lecture on attention produced all sorts of results, but my favourite so far has been the detour through the phenomenon of adult colouring books.

(If you’re like me, you might well have completely the wrong impression when you read “adult colouring in”, but what we mean is the sudden publishing phenomenon of colouring books to help achieve relaxation and manage anxiety.)

Jade kicked off the diversion with this tweet:

And after quite a bit of back and forth on what all this means, Rachel Farley wrote up her thoughts and experiences, with some convincing research:

Joel Parsons, a senior lecturer in psychology at UNSW, analysed the positive effects of colouring on the artists visual spatial attention. Typically, when attention is visually focused on a location in space the observer is more clearly able to predict ongoing behaviour (Chun & Wolfe, 2001, p. 273). He observed that:

“When colouring-in you look at the colours and spaces occupying those parts of your brain that might normally be involved in anxiety” Parsons, 2015 

But it’s not just colouring that enables us to still our minds. We also engage in practical distraction management tasks, especially when listening to recorded lectures. Anthony found himself cleaning his room while listening, and asked whether this is a productive kind of multitasking.

I know I often tidy my desk while sitting on speakerphone (and sometimes just while listening to someone talk at me), and certainly this is something I do while watching videos, for which I have a really short attention span. One of the reasons people find attention hard to conserve while watching is that it’s relatively passive. But Andy Patrinos, in “Have You Been Paying Attention?“, reflected on the process of losing focus even while engaging in a concentrated and neurologically active task like writing:

 – on a side note, this post has taken me so long to write, not only due to procrastination, but due to the fact that I would rather be delving in my current obsession of House of Cards right now. ~ my attention span during this attention span post is actually making me lose motivation…

Giverny Witheridge subjected her family to a small attention research project, and I was really delighted by the way she followed up with her research subject. This is very consistent with the principle of collaboration with research subjects we’ve been focusing on. In particular, I think it’s harder to sustain judgmental research interpretation when you speak with a collaborator, and this can help keep our minds open to less obvious outcomes:

 Asking Dad how he felt about multitasking, Dad replied “Multitasking helps me assess and prioritise. I like to action things as soon as I receive them. I also like variety. I don’t even realise I’m doing it.” For Dad, the value of this experiment in improving his own understanding of his work practices had suddenly become clear.

Yet Dad’s response has also raised a number of pertinent questions – are studies into the effects of multitasking biased to reveal only negative effects, fuelling another moral panic about the loss of ‘skills of concentration’? Are there in fact positive effects of multitasking?

Giverny’s blog is also this week’s must-read for a television commercial that will make you stop and think hard about your own attention to detail.

This connects to an attention test that Courtney undertook with her dad, in which her dad scored significantly higher than she did? Is attention shifting generationally? (This is also important in Andy’s post, and her concern about the attention spans of young children.)

Dana Said conducted some memory research with her sister with some interesting findings, including that we tend to remember more readily things that we have some connection to. This is a standard claim for memory research that makes sense, and it’s the reason most people try to use memorable phrases for computer passwords–because otherwise the prospect of actually being able to recall them is limited. As I had this embarrassing experience this morning, Dana’s post really spoke to me.

Meanwhile, my favourite tweet of the week we spent paying attention to attention:

And as a postscript, thanks to the conversation that began with colouring in as a craze, Angus Baillie has ended the week introducing me via Twitter to the weird science (or perhaps non-science) of ASMR. No seriously, it’s a thing.

Nice work, and a cheer to all of you who caught up with your posting this week. We see you!


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