• Question: I was wondering from your research if there were any obvious techniques/methods that you have see/suggested that allow students to ignore distractions?

    Asked by bowesn to Yana, Paul, Lucy, Liz, Jo, Jessie on 10 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Paul Matusz

      Paul Matusz answered on 10 Jan 2018:

      Hi there,
      There’s some really great work from Anne Fisher from Carnegie Mellon showing that classrooms devoid of decorations not relevant to the taught material lead to better learning and less off-task behaviour. Here’s a link to a free PDF – http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= Around the topic of classrooms etc. features, there is a recent study in a sample of >4,000 pupils that reveals some other design factors that seem to generally improve learning – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132315000700.

      In research that I have been conducting with Gaia Scerif at Oxford University we find a bit of a counterintuitive picture on children’s overall distractability – for highly familiar objects (objects defined by basic colours), unlike adults and older kids, 6-7 year-olds seem to be paradoxically “shielded” from strong, robust distraction from multisensory distractors of this kind when the task they perform becomes difficult – https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b968/c51283ea0f42d320cefe5ef9d15771295af1.pdf . We find perhaps parallel results in our yet npublished data, in similar age groups, using relatively more unfamiliar object categories (at least to 6-7 year olds) – arabic numerals (and their spoken labels). Namely, in a visual search task involving the Arabic numerals, we found that all groups were more strongly distracted by digit verbal labels, but, again unlike the other two age groups, younger kids benefited these distractors when they matched the identity of the current (visual) target digit; older kids and adults were only impared (and didn’t overall) benefit from these sounds. These “protective” effects of age on distraction match some other existing research, but done more in either visual or auditory sensory modality. However and overall, before any strong conclusions can be drawn, we need to use a wider range of tasks and (familiar) stimuli. Nevertheless, these are exciting results, shedding more light onto how people of different ages process information in everyday situations, where information typically stimulates multiple senses, often at once, and it varies in both its importance to what they are doing and in familiarity to those different groups of people.

    • Photo: Lucy Cragg

      Lucy Cragg answered on 11 Jan 2018:

      Just to add to Paul’s answer, it probably sounds really obvious but research suggests that it’s best to be ‘proactive’ in ignoring distractions, i.e. removing distractions in advance where possible – turning off phones, email, moving away from disruptive classmates etc rather than just waiting for the distraction to happen and then trying to ignore it.

      A technique that’s often suggested to PhD students writing their PhD thesis and might also be useful to encourage younger students to concentrate is the pomodoro technique. This is where you work on something for a set amount of time (the standard is 25 minutes but it could be shorter) and then take a break (where you could engage with those distractions). However, there’s been very little research to test whether this is a useful strategy or not so it’s not evidence-based.

    • Photo: Yana Weinstein

      Yana Weinstein answered on 22 Jan 2018:

      I guess it depends what types of distractions you are talking about, but if you are interested in multimedia distraction, there is an interesting recent study showing that even having one’s phone on one’s person (without seeing it) can be a distraction, as compared to putting it in another room. Read more about it in this blog post: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/10/12-1


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