Over the last week and a half, I have been working on a presentation for my cognitive neuroscience course on this phenomenon called the “Attentional Blink”. I’ll spare the details but the gist is that after the processing of an initial set of information, there is a refractory period that lasts about 500msecs where cognition is impaired and processing is hindered pretty substantially. In other words, there are only so many cognitive resources to go around, so when your mind is busy, learning new information difficult, if not impossible.
I bring this up because the hypothesis that cognitive resources are limited is a pretty legitimate one. When you are mentally distracted or preoccupied with irrelevant information, there is little spill-over for new stimuli. Maintaining a strong sense of focus is always easier said than done, especially when we live in a world with a million things that are demanding of our attention. Next time you’re in class and you feel your mind starting to wander, try to take a deep breath and clear it and refocus. You’ll be surprised how much clarity a deep breath will provide.