Attention is the holy grail

Steffie Verstappen
November 2nd, 2010
Article by: Steffie Verstappen
Attention is the holy grail

RESEARCH | At THNK, we are naturally interested in learning about learning. To what extent do circumstantial factors impact the functioning of the brain? What circumstances are ideal for optimal brain use, and how to create those? How does the use of digital media technologies support and restrict our learning processes? These are all important questions that we regularly ask ourselves when shaping our research and education program. A group of neuroscientists took it one step further and went into the wild to study their own brains.


"Attention is the holy grail. Everything that you're conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it." (David Strayer, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah)


In large doses, use of digital technologies is assumed to contribute to a stressful lifestyle, a compromised ability to reflect, to make decisions and to think creatively, leaving us feeling increasingly powerless. In this light, the New York Times reports on five neuroscientists on an unusual journey: they spend one week together in a remote area of southern Utah, rafting down the San Juan River, to study the effects on their own capacity to focus and to look at how their attention works.


Based on the science, heavy technology use is expected to significantly impact the functioning of the brain. Likely, there will be less fragmentation in the way in which we think and talk when we get away from civilization and our use of digital devices and technologies decreases. Nonetheless, related research is still in its early stages and little real knowledge exists on the way in which technology use changes the way we think and behave and how it affects attention, memory and learning. Does a retreat into nature reverse those effects? The group of scientists will be looking for the little changes and moments—the instances that underscore the emerging science about attention. Gaining more understanding of how our attention works should not be underestimated. It could help in the treatment of a range of illnesses, such as attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and depression, as well as being of use for a wide variety of other purposes.



Read the New York Times article, Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain and Linda Stone's blog post about Continuous Partial Attention for more information.