Attention Residue

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Dr. Leroy’s Words About Her Research on Attention Residue

I am passionate about the study of attention.

What allows us to have focused attention and what makes it so hard to do so in today’s world of interruptions, distractions, decentralized decision making and information overload?

What is Attention Residue?

“I’ve spent the last 17 years studying the brain and how we deal with having to constantly switch focus. What research shows is that, generally, the brain finds it difficult to switch between tasks. In particular, my research reveals that, as we switch between tasks (for example from a Task A to a Task B), part of our attention often stays with the prior task (Task A) instead of fully transferring to the next one (Task B). This is what I call Attention Residue, when part of our attention is focused on another task instead of being fully devoted to the current task that needs to be performed.”

When am I more at risk of experiencing attention residue?

“Attention residue easily occurs when we leave tasks unfinished, when we get interrupted, or when we anticipate that once we have a chance to get to the unfinished or pending work we will have to rush to get it done. Our brain finds it hard to let go of these tasks, and instead keeps them active in the back of our mind, even when are trying to focus on and perform other tasks.”

What does it mean for you?

“Going back to the analogy of a Task A and a Task B, when you experience attention residue and keep thinking about Task A while working on Task B, it means you have fewer cognitive resources available to perform Task B. The impact? Your performance on Task B is likely to suffer, especially if Task B is cognitively demanding.”