Can the performance on a task be improved by "distracting" parts of the brain?

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by Buckaroo Banzai, Aug 26, 2017.

  1. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

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    I somewhat recall having read or heard in some sciencey podcast something along the lines of certain tasks being more flowy in an expert-autopilot mode, if the brain was at the same time partly distracted, reducing the odds of these other brain parts minding what isn't their business/expertise and actually decreasing performance.

    It kind of smells like the principles of automated "muscle memory" in sports (or some other types of physical performance), versus "choking" with overthinking it. But I think it was something distinct, maybe there was the example of a famous music composer even asking someone to read something aloud to generate something that's not quite a white noise, like a secondary focus of attention, but a non-prioritary attention.

    And it possibly had the explanation that the "listening and making sense of words" parts of the brain being more or less distracted and interfering less with the "music composing" areas.

    But I'm not sure it's really something I've read or heard or whether I kind of made it up. Which wouldn't be "my theory" or anything like that, just plain confusion.

    Did anyone ever read something credible along those lines?
     
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  3. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    The closest example I can think of along such lines as auto pilot is arriving home and being in the kitchen before you realise you have driven home but have been so distracted with a problem you recall nothing of the trip

    Not recommended. I think the distraction would not improve the driving home

    I would like to think concentrating on driving home would make you forget about the problem and give you a peaceful night

    But that's another story

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  5. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    That's what I was thinking. There's less value in solving an important problem if the distraction that enables the solution also kills you. Unfortunately, we can't always control what distracts us, so avoiding distractions is an important skill to have.
     
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  7. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Giving the other side of your brain something to do often reduces its need to interrupt and get attention.

    This is why so many programmers listen to music on their headphones when they're working.
    It satisfies their "right brain", so their "left brain" can work.
    They often remark that they can only listen to instrumental music; that they can't work to music with lyrics.
    When doing an intense task of development. I listen to music, but if an actual problem comes up that I need to solve, the first thing I have to do is whip my headphones off. This allows me to engage both "sides" of my brain in the task, allowing me to make intuitive leaps I can;t make otherwise.

    Same with driving. How many of you have seen someone turn the radio off when they get lost?
    Routine driving is a task that only requires part of your brain, while the other part can listen to music. But when a problem crops up - such as getting lost - you need that other part to get involved, so the radio has to go off.
     
  8. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    Try having a 3 neurone brain where one likes Rachmaninoff one likes heavy metal and the other likes silence

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  9. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    My brain works as a whole... an the more complicated the task at hand the less destraction the better.!!!
     
  10. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

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    Whatever I may have heard or read on the subject wasn't related with anything potentially dangerous, more like studying, composing, drawing, writing, perhaps housekeeping chores at the most "dangerous" end.



    I believe the explanation may have been along the lines of brain "sides" as well, but I'm not sure, as it's often mentioned nowadays that this is not as binary and simple as often made out to be, without people being left- or right-"brained", with a dominant brain side.



    That kind of thing was what led me to ask about it. I've also read more recently (yesterday) that there's some research suggesting that it's not good to listen to music while doing things like studying. There was something in the context of being a form of multi-tasking, that, even though people feel better and more productive while doing it, the performance is actually inferior. That's regardless of the music being instrumental, favored or disliked, or even just ambient noise like chatter. A silent environment always results in better recall later.

    http://www.mindthesciencegap.org/2012/10/08/does-music-help-you-study/

    And that seemed to potentially conflict with this other notion I may have seen. Specially when considering also instrumental vs vocal.

    But maybe studying is significantly different from doing something on which one has more expertise and automaticity, so it wouldn't generalize as much, and possibly still be true for such kind of tasks. Given that the music "distraction" doesn't imply in a safety hazard, of course.

    Even phases of different tasks (or studying) may have different optimal brain requirements. Such as, when programming, "dumber"/"obvious" code segments, versus parts one has to pay more attention to the logic of what's going on.
     
  11. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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  12. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    That's why I put it in quotes.
    The idea that our brains are physically divided by task, I think has been generally debunked, both halves can be creative as well as analytical.

    However, I do think there is still merit in the idea that it is divided by task, (just not physically).
    Any artist knows that they can lapse into a purely concrete "right brain" mode, where they forget to talk,and other analytical things. Their analytical functions lapse into a restful state.
     
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    What has been "debunked" is a simplistic, popular magazine description of segregated task assignment - the two halves of the brain are divided not so much by specific task as by role or approach.

    A paranoid but illuminating reference: http://iainmcgilchrist.com

    The author speaks briefly, animated by somebody else: https://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain

    A longer take:
    The minutes from 13 - 16 might work as intro.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2017
  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Yeah. That is what I mean.
    The popular view was literally "left hemisphere handles analysis etc., right hemisphere handles creativity etc".
     
  15. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

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    I think it's actually more like the "distorted" thing, with the physical specializations, but it also just got "polluted" with random laymen's ideas and overblown derivations from simplifications that scientists made trying to explain the thing to the popular press. Winding up even in misunderstandings analog to the "everything is relative" notion of Special Relativity; "time flows faster when you're doing things you like, but it slows down when you're in a waiting room or in a life-and-death situation". Or "men are from Mars, women are from Venus", for something not that off, but still not quite following science.







    Other way may be to selectively "anesthetize" the brain.

    I also sort of remember reading on some book by Oliver Sachs (probably), that they were able to somehow selectively anesthetize the left brain hemisphere (maybe the "Wada test" procedure?) in someone (I believe it was a young girl, about 10, but maybe this person was just mentioned in a somewhat related story), who was then able to make drawings that were comparatively much more realistic.

    I don't think there were actual illustrations, of "before and after" drawings, but they were described more or less along the lines of those "draw with the right side of your brain" line of books, that is, "normal"/'before" drawings tending to be more iconographic/symbolic, like sloppy cartoons, and "right brain" drawings actually resembling something that could have been traced from a photograph.


    Similar to those news stories, there are some alleged cases of people who were all of a sudden able to speak a language they hadn't formally studied, or that much proximity to (but not complete lack of contact either), after a blow to the head. I think these cases or news reports possibly inflate the "fluency" and proficiency, when possibly is more like as if they just had "mastered" a few phrases and basic grammar. Certainly impressive for non-speakers of that language, but still far from a sudden second-language "genius". But still a really curious thing brain-science-wise, nevertheless.

    Thinking of these things seems to have triggered some association-seeker mode in my own brain, now I think this kind of thing (blows to the head resulting in selectively improved performance) perhaps may be somewhat related with those cases of people with extremely minute brains (like just 10% the normal mass, I guess) resulting from hydrocephalus having normal or even above-average IQs. That's thought to possibly be the result of some sorts of defense mechanisms, and may be also the common mechanism or triggered effect behind things like "idiot savants", only without the massive loss of brain mass.

    But now it is sliding to something that's probably not that close to the original thing I asked, though. Not that this is a problem.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2017
  16. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    The links I posted, including the longer video, go into that (including eyewitness).
     
  17. superstring01 Moderator

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    I've always had zero focus. I'm an ADHD poster child. A few years ago, I actually got help from a psychologist who taught me some interesting tricks to help with focus. All of those tricks involve me occupying my hands in one way or another. The latest mechanism is with a fidget-spinner that --if I'm in an office-- annoys the shit out of people. I work from home mostly, so when I'm on a conference call, I can do that. Other options are doodling. I have a doodle-pad that I bring with me. That too has bothered people in meetings. They see me doodling and assume that I'm not paying attention. By occupying a chunk of my mind, the rest is able to stay focused on the meeting.

    The crazy shit is what happens if I don't do that. I have two specific issues, one closely resembles narcolepsy where I get flashes of non-conscious periods that feel somewhat like I'm doing whippets (or poppers). That whah-whah-whah feeling where I start flashing in and out of consciousness. The other one is that I go into a full-on trance and unplug from reality. It's not particularly dangerous but it makes me the worst possible candidate to go to meetings or sit in a classroom (a fact that I've made very clear to every manager I've had over the past six years). If I have to go to a meeting, I doodle or find some mechanism to occupy my hands so what's left of my mind can pay attention to the people talking.
     
  18. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

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    I hadn't (and haven't) read yet, sorry/thanks.

    This kind of thing makes me dislike this kind of "fad" of trivially dismissing "we only use 10% of our brain" as a "myth", dealing only with the literal "area" interpretation, rather than something analog to "a recent computer with only MS Windows 2000 installed is using only 2% of its capacity".



    http://time.com/56809/the-science-of-peak-human-performance/

    “Transient hypofrontality” is a term describing the inhibition/"shutdown" of our "monitoring self", "voice of doubt", that is argued to result in other brain areas doing what they do best undisturbedly, resulting in what's often called a state of "flow".

    So I guess what I asked could possibly be along the lines of some sort of "passive activity" that kind of approximates this "shutdown" in a way, very literally distracting this "internal critic" with some bait.

    I still find a bit annoying to not have found anything very explicit in this sense, and not even being sure of where I may have seen about it originally.

    It almost comes close by using the word "distracting", but I find it more particularly interesting that the principle may be useful in learning a language:

    Which goes a bit on the opposite direction of those things saying that when learning skills, higher attention is required and automation comes later. In the other hand I think I've read about some analogs in other areas, like sports training with too artificial/controlled conditions aren't that good, despite those allowing for the careful analysis of technique; the technique doesn't get as generalized, and more randomized training is more effective.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2017
  19. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

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    I think I've seen somewhere that, for the dismay of old-fashioned teachers, doodling while listening to a presentation is actually good for everyone. Even chewing gum supposedly has some related benefit, I guess.

    It's still weird to picture everyone doing that, though.
     
  20. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    I find I can lie like a psychopath and manipulate others when the only feeling running through my mind is fear.

    (But latter I was charged then convicted of obstructing justice - that could potentially bring a jail term but I only 50 hours of community service.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2017
  21. superstring01 Moderator

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    It is. But we have a lot of "intuitive" rules in society that break down under inspection but they're passed along --as memes are want to do-- because people repeat them as if they were eternal and universal. The problem is that a lot of what we do, from sitting in meetings to attending class, are build on the factory model of standardization for everybody. That fails upon inspection because we cannot do a set of things perfectly for all people to to make up the shortfall, we try to force people to adapt to the standardization which is really, REALLY bad for people. I mean, it was good for civilization for centuries because we didn't have the resources to educate/employ all people in "brainy" tasks and so only those who fit the standard model would percolate up and then fall into those tasks/fields. But over the past century, more and more of us have had to find employment that require us to fit the model.

    Well, not all of us. I've worked REALLY hard to build a career where I can work at my leisure (or at least when I'm able to focus) and avoid the mind-numbing agony that is sitting in meetings and listening to fuckwits tell me how things are. I did finally finish my degree a year ago (CS) and I'm finally using it and doing something worthwhile, but it took me until I was fucking 41 to get there. Most kids will be destroyed by our standard model in society and enter a life of soul-crushing monotony and/or fail out of the system so many times that they finally get some version of Stockholm Syndrom, convert and otherwise find some way to exist.

    I digress.

    At any rate. I doodle, use fidget spinners or something else. But I mostly doodle. I have an exceptional memory + I record meetings and go over them later if I need to.
     

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