Friday, January 13, 2006

Understanding Our Distractions - Note-Taking, and Cell Phones

Distractions commonly contribute to 'careless' mistakes and ineffective learning, but researchers are making progress figuring out why certain overloads occur.

In the first study link below, researchers found that flashing a distracting word on a screen caused more interference with visual object memory (what) than visual spatial memory (where). This was a bit of surprise because words are generally filed in a different location from pictures. When they interviewed their test subjects, though, they found out that test subjects had translated seen visual objects or shapes into words - and because of that translation, distracting words could derail visual object memory while location memory was just fine.

Not everyone does this, but it really is pretty common. You might do it, but because it seems so automatic, you may not be entirely aware of it. We find this verbal mediation to be more common in certain groups of people, too, like many (but not all) dyslexics.

If you need words to help you remember what you've seen, chances are, you'll can be easily swamped in demanding visual-verbal tasks like listening to a lecture with slides or diagrams. Teaching certain subjects (like higher math) are particularly challenging for the quantity of visual and verbal information presented simultaneously...btw - this should be a caveat to instructions who like to bombard students with all sorts of information at once, in the name of multisensory instruction.

Folks who are visual-verbal mediators may also at a big disadvantage with note- taking because as they are translating visual information into words, they will miss in real-time what the teacher has been verbally explaining. Needless to say, teacher's notes and pre-reading chapters can make a huge difference in the success or failure of such students.

BTW, check out the distracting influence of driving with a cell phone below: in a driver simulation vehicle, cell phone conversations (whether hands-free or not) caused more driving errors and impaired response times than legal alcohol intoxication! This is an instance of working memory overload, too.

Verbal Distraction and Visual Object and Spatial Memory
Cell Phones and Distraction

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