By Interactive Metronome - February 24, 2014

Want a good workout? Try not paying attention.

Want a good workout? Try not paying attention


Granted, zoning out during your next 10k might make the miles fly by, but that isn’t exactly what we are talking about. Paul Seli and his colleagues from the University of Waterloo provide some interesting insights on split attention and executive function, both of which are crucial during “multitasking.” A study published in the December edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition points to a connection between focus and controlling extraneous movement.  While this study deals more specifically with fidgeting and attention, it helps shed some light on the connection between sustained attention, timing and motor control.


Question: Does a wandering mind affect your secondary task goals, and if so, to what extent? What does that all mean? Well, let’s say that your primary task was to complete an exam; the secondary task includes sitting down and staying still, so as not to disturb others. It seems fairly obvious that a wandering mind will result in a poorer performance on the exam, but does the loss of attention literally cause you to fidget more?


As it turns out…yes. The deeper your mind wanders, the more likely you are to lose control over secondary tasks. Since sitting down and staying still is an automatic, mindless action, our brains devote very little energy to controlling those extraneous movements. Next time you wonder why you can sit on the couch all day watching your favorite movies, but can barely sit through a conference lecture, you could blame the speaker. Or, maybe your brain really feels like it needs to be doing something else. Either way, it has shifted focus; you might not even know that you started shaking your leg or fidgeting in your seat.


It isn’t just about staying still; secondary tasks are any tasks you can do on “autopilot.” If you are carrying on a conversation (primary task) and walking (secondary task), you may find yourself standing still when your mind wanders. What is really being affected by the loss of focus is control of the secondary task. What does that mean? You guessed it, the more your mind wanders, the fewer tasks you can effectively juggle. So, multitasking may not be the best way to work. In fact, it may not work at all. Assuming that the slightest loss of attention robs your brain of the power necessary to complete a mindless, automated task, the processing speed needed to effectively multitask would be staggering.


So, how did they measure attention? After all, it was important for Seli and his colleagues to reliably and accurately measure timing to establish a means for comparison. And when it comes to constant rhythm and timing there is no better choice than a metronome. Participants were directed to respond to the beat over a period of time. The researchers used the reaction time, measured in milliseconds, to a constant metronome reference tone as their measure of attention.


At Interactive Metronome® (IM) we are all about attention, focus and timing. Improving timing and rhythm is an essential part of child development. A 1999 High/Scope Educational Research Foundation study, “Timing in Child Development,” shows a clear link between timing and academic performance. Children with better metronome and musical timing consistently perform better on achievement tests. In fact, this study showed that a child’s ability to focus is related more to timing than household income or parent’s level of education.


There is little that can be done about income level or parent’s education, but timing is a relatively easy skill to exercise. IM is a patented and unique training tool that challenges thinking and movement simultaneously, providing real-time millisecond feedback to help synchronize the body’s “internal clock.” In just a few minutes a day, a few times a week you can see improvement in attention, memory, processing speed, balance, coordination, sensory processing, motor planning and sequencing. Act now and reach your full potential academically, socially, professionally and athletically!

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