Learning In The Age Of Digital Distraction

LA Johnson/NPR

LA Johnson/NPR

Authored by Eric Westervelt

Maybe the smart phone's hegemony makes perfect evolutionary sense: Humans are tapping a deep urge to seek out information. Our ancient food-foraging survival instinct has evolved into an info-foraging obsession; one that prompts many of us today to constantly check our phones and multitask.

Monkey see. Click. Swipe. Reward.

A new book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World explores the implications of, and brain science behind, this evolution (some might say devolution)It was written Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist and a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and research psychologist Larry D. Rosen.

Our friends at NPR's Shots blog recently spoke with one of the authors about distraction's impact on productivity. I wanted to talk with Dr. Gazzaley about what his research tells us about teaching, learning, studying and screen time in the age of digital distraction.

From food foragers to information foragers. Mechanisms that developed in our brain for survival have now evolved to include information foraging?

Correct. We see it in other primates and we believe that this is sort of a hijacking or an evolution of that same system that was critical for our survival in terms of seeking out food has now been directed at seeking out information.

Adam, we engage this info-foraging, this distraction even when that behavior is self-destructive or counterproductive?

Yes, some behaviors that drive us, like even addictive behaviors, might have some positive reward reinforcement and then many other negative consequences. (Read More...)