Distraction Is Changing Our Perception of Reality
If we want to preserve the concept of reality, we have to fight for it.
Here’s the bad news: The battle for our attention is over. We lost. The attention economy won. We are no match for technologies that have been designed to keep us in a constant state of endless distraction.
Distraction isn’t going away, and we aren’t getting any better at managing it. If anything, we’re getting worse because we are simply adapting to living in a state of constant cognitive chaos where our thinking is regularly and relentlessly compromised.
Thinking while distracted makes us bad decision-makers, but it also does something to us that may be far worse and have far bigger consequences. Distracted thinking actually shapes our view of reality.
When Distraction Defines Reality
A recent article in The Journal of Experimental Psychology demonstrates just how big of a threat distraction is to our perception of reality.
Study participants were shown four colored squares and asked to focus their attention on one of them. They were then asked to report the range of color of that one square. Occasionally the researchers would flash a different color to distract the participants. The results were stunning.
When distracted, participants did one of two things: They selected the distraction color over their focus color, or they reported their focus color as a tone furthest from the distraction color. Either way, participants were confident that they’d correctly reported the color they’d observed in their focus square.
The researchers suggest that when we are in a state of distraction — even if that distraction is minor — we may see reality differently, often without realizing it. In the case of this study, people who reported the color of the distraction had no idea that they’d remembered the wrong color. They not only encoded the wrong information, but they also associated it with a different reality. For example, imagine that I’m focusing on the green pen sitting on my desk, but then someone flashes a blue eraser in front of my face. This study suggests that I may very well tell you later (quite confidently, in fact)that I…