a man pointingWhat separates the easily distracted from the strongly focused? Research from Simon Fraser University suggests that an individual’s resolve is what makes some people focus, despite distractions. The study is the first in the field of attention to assess how people how people ignore disruptive stimuli. The findings could lead to new research and treatments of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers observed 47 participants with an average age of 21. The participants completed a set of experiments while wearing an electrode cap that monitored brain activity. The tests measured the participants’ brain activity while paying attention, how distracted the participants were, and whether the participants were able to suppress intrusive stimuli.

Most studies in attention have examined how people focus harder, but this study is the first to evaluate how people ignore distractions. The researchers found that the brain has an active suppressive mechanism that limits distractions. Moreover, this mechanism responsible for ignoring distractions must be activated by an individual’s will.

The study is opening up a new branch of scientific inquiry; the researchers involved in the present study are already planning to conduct further study about how the brain deals with distraction and why some people are less affected by intrusive stimuli.

The research team places a lot of the blame for inattention on electronic devices.

“There are individual differences in the ability to deal with distraction. New electronic products are designed to grab attention. Suppressing such signals takes effort, and sometimes people can’t seem to do it,” commented John McDonald, associate professor of psychology.

This research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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