‘Israelis can improve their attentiveness’

Neuroscientist and mentalist test their brains on Night of the Scientists

September 22, 2015 00:14
2 minute read.

THE MINISTRY’S YouTube video tested participants’ attentiveness by performing numerous minor changes in between the illusionist’s magic tricks.. (photo credit: YOUTUBE)

A first-ever series of Israeli experiments using YouTube and organized by the Science, Technology and Space Ministry to test Israelis’ attentiveness has found that 78 percent do not pay attention to details when busy with another task.

The experiments were carried out as part of the annual Night of the Scientists activities in 15 science museums and university research institutes around the country on Monday.

By mid-afternoon, 5,000 people of all ages had participated by viewing the YouTube video on the ministry’s website, but the participants did not constitute a representative sample of all Israelis.

The items were presented by mentalist Lior Suchard with Dr. Ricardo Tarrasch, a Tel Aviv University expert in behavioral neuroscience.

After one views three short experiments with cards, judging which two objects were darker and NIS 50 bills turning into NIS 200 ones, participants were asked to answer 14 short questions.

Very few participants noticed that numerous changes had been made in what the two wore, which photos and colored cloth were in the background and what covered the table.

Not one participant was able to answer all 14 questions correctly, missing most of the changes that had been made. The average was five correct answers. Fully 78 percent noticed two changes or fewer; 42% missed all the changes; and 25% identified only a few changes. When the experiments were carried out abroad, the rate of correct answers ranged between 17% and 29%, the ministry said.

Tarrasch, who analyzed the results, noted that they did not prove attention-deficit disorder but a natural tendency of the brain to focus on a stimulus that is relevant to a task we are performing at the same moment and to filter out stimuli that cause “noise” (interference) in the system.

“At the primary level of the visual cortex, information is recorded as it occurs in reality,” he said. But in the more sophisticated regions that unscramble and filter the data, the processing of relevant information occurs only in the task of the moment, so it’s easy to miss changing things that occur in the background, the TAU scientist explained. “In daily life, the system has to scan what occurs around us and highlight the things that need attention, so in this situation, the filter is less accurate.”

So when we cross the street while using a cellular phone, he continued, we put ourselves in danger. When we deal with an emotional issue, the system ignores things that are psychologically difficult so we ignore them, such as a homeless person lying on the sidewalk or being in distress, Tarrasch continued.

“But if we train our brains to be more aware of thoughts, feelings and emotions and our behavior, we can significantly improve our ability to pay attention and concentrate – and also improve our abilities in our studies, at work, on the road and towards people around us,”

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