When you’ve got a bunch of friends, and you’re trying to get their attention to do something, there’s an obvious way to do it: ask them to do things for you.
But you’ve probably been told to focus on the task at hand, like getting coffee or picking up a package.
Now there’s a way to make that process much easier: focus on one thing at a time.
In a new paper, researchers at the University of Michigan have found that you can make an exogenous, “spatial” attention network by creating a grid of dots on a computer screen.
The dots are supposed to be spaced evenly, but the spacing of the dots makes it easy for people to see when one is in the middle of the group and another is in a different spot.
The team then randomly assigned participants to one of two “task-specific” groups, with the task being either to click a button or to write a text.
As the dots became more evenly spaced, participants began to notice the dots’ position on the screen, the researchers say.
That was when they noticed the problem: the dots were not moving evenly when people were in one group and people in the other group were in the same spot.
That’s when they started to notice something else.
What’s more, participants were less likely to make a mistake when they were in a task-specific group, the paper notes.
And this was true even when the researchers measured the participants’ accuracy at making the correct choices, or when they had to make the correct decisions while making a choice, such as which of two items to choose.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
“The task-level effects are very subtle,” study co-author Mark Krumm said in a statement.
“You might notice that you make the wrong choices, and then you don’t notice that for a while.”
But the results were so strong, Kruml says, that he is excited to share them with the rest of the world.
“We’re starting to understand how a spatial attention network could have important effects in a variety of situations.”
The research team’s initial study found that participants in task-based groups were more likely to pick the wrong item.
But after participants were given a task in which they could pick the correct item, they were more accurate than those in task groups that were assigned the correct items.
Krums team found that the same pattern of results applied to other tasks, such a handwriting task, in which participants had to type on a screen.
It’s also possible that participants would pick the right items, Kromm says, “but we don’t know whether they would pick them.
That would be interesting.”