“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”In my personal experience, it seems — if I'm remembering properly! — that the way the brain works changes over time.
For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.Isn't the whole point of reading to get to something that makes you stop and think (or write)? I mean, that's the way I read. It really slows me down like mad.
When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.I smell patronizing self-esteem boosting in "they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers." But it's good to know that there are different kinds of minds, different approaches to learning and thinking (and writing), and that we can respect these differences (and not fear them as they loom in the future).
“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”
In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.Oh, the harsh winter killed 3/4 of one my red bud trees — which are nevertheless quite prettily blooming right now as I look out the window and think about my brain and poor Teddy Kennedy's brain — riddled, we now know, with cancer.
ADDED: Byrd weeps for Teddy.