How distracting are visual tasks?


Visual distractions may prevent your brain from processing information

The Today Show recently wrote an article about some downsides of being constantly connected to your phone. While in recent years cell phones have become more and more used for daily life, people either don’t want to question, or don’t think about the negative affects that prolonged cell phone use may have. A study in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that people who are engaged in visual activities (such as cell phone use or reading), are less likely to hear what’s going on around them. This may cause them to miss important instructions, not realize the music is on, or not fully hear when someone is talking to them. This is because visual activities and listening activities use the same part of the brain. If one is fully occupied, the other has a hard time getting through. This idea is related to multi-tasking and divided attention

The article says, “the more taxing the visual task, the less likely the person is going to hear what you’re saying”. The brain has to choose between various stimuli, and it will often times attend to the more complex task, which in this case leads someone to not hear when they are being spoken to, or miss their stop on the metro. 

Nilli Lavie, professor of psychology and brain science at University College London says that this is also the reason why surgeons have someone to watch the monitoring equipment in the operating room. As the surgeon is focused on their task, they may not be able to hear if the beeping of an alarm or dropping heart rate.

Whether it be in the operating room, at work, or at home we should be conscious of the fact that dedicating our visual skills to one activity may make us less likely to hear other noises around us. If we miss something on TV or the radio, our lives are not affected very much. However, if we are so concentrated on our iPad that we don’t hear our child crying or husband leaving for work, there is more potential for a conflict. It is inevitable to occupy our time with visual activities, but we should work to be conscious of our surroundings.