Are You Really Paying Attention?
Reported December 2006
CINCINNATI (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Watching ... focusing ... scanning ... Millions of American jobs require intense concentration on monitors or television screens. But are we really paying attention?
Distractions can break anyone's concentration, but new research shows what happens in your brain can, too.
"The phenomenon is such that the more you look, the less you see," Joel Warm, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at University of Cincinnati, tells Ivanhoe.
To find out just how much you're paying attention, University of Cincinnati researchers tracked mental activity using transcranial Doppler sonography (TDS). The device measures blood flow velocity in the brain. Dr. Warm believes the reading could be an indicator of sustained, or non-stop, attention, also known as vigilance.
"The velocity goes up, it means that blood is being rushed to an area to carry away the waste product. The more mental activity, the more the waste product," he says.
During various 40-minute tests, researchers saw a decrease in blood-flow velocity over time, and, therefore, a decrease in attention. "Sometimes in the first 10 minutes," Dr. Warm says. "That early." And he says many times the participants didn't realize it was happening.
The Air Force is already interested in the research.
Lloyd Tripp, a research scientist at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio says, "What kind of breaks do we need to give those individuals who are in vigilance type of a job, high-vigilance job?"
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati say soon they will begin studying the sustained attention of drivers. Dr. Warm believes the study results can be helpful for the military, security workers, air traffic controllers and many others. He calls it a way to "monitor the monitor."
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Joel S. Warm, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Cincinnati, Ohio
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Santa Monica, CA 90406
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