• Question: What environmental factors (that we can control) have been shown to negatively impact attention? I’m thinking things like noise, screen time, diet/hydration, etc.

    Asked by drjessicahamer to Richard, Mike, Matt, Matt, Kathryn, Gaia on 2 Mar 2018.
    • Photo: Matt Dunn

      Matt Dunn answered on 2 Mar 2018:

      Distracting ambient noises and overstimulation in a classroom can take attention away in a lesson, even the colour of the light has been shown to affect work. It’s a fine line between bare and busy, certain colours have been shown to have certain effects, but a good rule of thumb is no more than three colours to a room. For example, while during the day we’re exposed to all colours of natural light, when the sun sets (and especially during these winter months when that happens within school time) the amount of blue light drops drastically, and our body responds to the amount of blue light as part of the natural circadian rhythm. But with phones, laptops, TVs etc we get exposed to a great deal of blue light and this can affect our natural rhythms. You can get programs (flux for PC and Twilight for mobile) that cut out the blue light as the day wears on, with the screen dark and reddish towards midnight, and this helps a great deal with sleep and any disruption to a rhythm. The other aspect of light colour is that blue light has been shown to increase alertness and performance during the day https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734149/ Not to mention affecting melatonin levels and eye health. There is great evidence on blue light improving cognitive performance https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00702-006-0621-4 This may be a better paper actually https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989256/

    • Photo: Mike Hobbiss

      Mike Hobbiss answered on 2 Mar 2018:

      Great question. There are lots. Some interesting recent research has found that densely decorated classrooms might be distracting Barrett, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., and Barrett, L. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment, 89, 118-133.
      A big one though is technology. Not only the people using it, but other people around the person can be negatively affected by a laptop being used for non-work related things (admittedly this was a study done in lecture theatres) Sana, F., Weston, T., and Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers and Education, 62, 24-31. My big problem with technology in the classroom is that it often encourages multitasking, and there is very clear evidence that we aren’t able to multitask efficiently! https://hobbolog.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/we-cant-multi-task-students-parents-and-teachers-need-to-know-this-if-were-to-use-technology-effectively.

    • Photo: Gaia Scerif

      Gaia Scerif answered on 2 Mar 2018:

      Great question! The interesting thing is also how variable this is – some of the environmental “distractions” are sometimes relevant (think of illustrations with content). So part of the challenge is not just controlling the environment but also teaching kids what is relevant.
      I am sure you have seen this – not entirely an overlapping discussion, but bringing in some of the positives to offset the negatives is the use of technology not in the context of the classroom, but for home learning in particular for kids with difficulties. https://dart.ed.ac.uk/guardian_letter/