A newly released study shows the brain learns via two different methods and that distractions cause the brain to shift to one particular method. The study shows learning while distracted makes the knowledge gained harder to use later on.
The two types of learning are in effect memory and habit. In memory learning one uses a portion of the brain to capture the concept, fact or bit of information. In habit learning the body performs a task and this is recorded in a different part of the brain. For example a phone number can be learned by memorizing the 7 digit number (memory) or by repeatedly punching the number on the phone’s keypad (habit).
When distracted the brain shifts its preference to the habit area. The researcher suggested “in general distraction is always a bad thing”. Has the researcher seen or heard our President at international gatherings of world leaders? President Bush is the embodiment of distraction, complaining of boring speakers that go on too long. Might that interfere with his learning?
The study’s author had more to say. By relying on the habit memory system, Russell Poldrack said, "We may find ourselves in situations where we have picked up information about performing some task but we are unsure where that information came from."
In some situations this could be dangerous, he added: "For instance, we may find ourselves making decisions based on 'gut feelings' that utilize this implicit information and not realize that our decisions may be biased by where we learned that information."
Our President frequently speaks of making decisions based on his feelings or his gut. That’s just the kind of leader he is, and he will tell you so. Now we know this is the tendency of someone distracted, with an impaired ability to learn. Does this inspire confidence in the leader of the free world's ability to monitor a situation and adjust to any changes? That hope was dashed long ago from this blogger's perspective.