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Strategies for sustaining attention

Strategies for sustaining attention

Illustration by Harry Campbell

Need to stay focused on a task? Your best bet may be to solicit feedback, according to a new study by psychology Assistant Professor Matthew Robison.

In a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, Dr. Robison explains how he and his team measured the effectiveness of goal-setting, feedback, and incentive manipulations on participants’ ability to keep their attention on a task.

The resulting data showed that setting a specific goal improved sustained attention but produced no effect on task engagement, while combining a goal with feedback improved both. Feedback on its own was an impressive regulator of task-unrelated thoughts, but incentives showed little evidence of increasing task engagement or performance compared to the effects of the other strategies.

“Sustaining one’s attention is notoriously difficult,” says Robison. “If you want to encourage people to maintain focus on a task, giving feedback about their performance is a very powerful motivator.”

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