When I am distracted, my brain will think about what I am doing and how I am actually doing it, according to research.
Researchers at the University of Sussex have found that when I am a bit lazy, my mind tends to think about things that are in front of me rather than my task at hand.
The study is the first to suggest that this can lead to errors in our mental processing, the scientists say.
“It is not surprising that we tend to focus on tasks in front in the brain and not in the background, because we are not thinking about how things are in the present,” said study co-author Professor Jonathan Dickson, from the Department of Psychology at Sussex.
“What we found is that when we are distracted we tend not to pay attention to things that might be at the same time as the task that we are focused on, such as things like traffic or weather.”
In our experiments, when people were distracted they were more likely to make mistakes than when they were not distracted, such that they tended to miss details or ignore important information.
“This suggests that when people are distracted, they are not paying attention to details in their mind, but instead are thinking about the task athand.”
The study involved eight volunteers with an average age of 26, and each of them completed a task that involved taking a test on a laptop and then reading a series of short paragraphs.
The task was a series asking them to type out letters that would form a word in a series.
For the first part of the task, participants were asked to type the letters one at a time and then type them out in a sequence.
For each word, they had to type a letter that was a word from their previous word.
“We have found there is a certain amount of thought that goes into each letter that has to be thought about,” said Professor Dickson.
“In some cases, this thought may go further than you might expect.”
“The more words that we think about, the more likely it is that there will be mistakes.”
The results showed that people who were distracted tended to make more mistakes than those who were not.
The researchers also found that people were more accurate in their spelling when they had trouble remembering their mistakes.
“For some of the words that were difficult to remember, it took them longer to type them, which might be a reflection of the fact that the task was more complex and required a bit more effort than you would normally expect,” said co-lead author Professor Daniela Mancini, from The University of Cambridge.
“However, it is still clear that the tasks that we did showed that those who are distracted can make mistakes and make mistakes they might not have thought about before.”
The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.