Modern life is full of distractions – and some distractions can harm our ability to concentrate while studying. The problem is that many people tend to underestimate how much they are disturbed by what is happening around them. Here’s how to get the best learning results by considering your environment.
Reading is often accompanied by the sound of chat from around, such as from television or conversations of friends or colleagues. When trying to concentrate on a task, some people often say that having a chat nearby disturbs their concentration. But usually, they are not careful in accurately estimating how disturbed they are due to these voices. In fact, after being measured in a laboratory, it turns out that the ability of people to carry out tasks related to their studies is exacerbated by irrelevant speech around them.
For example, a recent study recorded participants’ eye movements as they read texts and listened to irrelevant chats. The results showed that reading required more effort because participants had to return to words that had been read more often beforehand and check again. This disturbance occurs because readers accidentally try to listen to irrelevant chats and process their meaning, even though it has nothing to do with what they are reading.
Listening to music is a common disorder that many students choose. A recent survey found that 62% of students study or do assignments while listening to music. But, once again, evidence from recent computer eye reading shows that listening to music also reduces reading efficiency like irrelevant chatter.
This might happen because the reader tries to process the lyrics of the music that is heard. In fact, recent summaries of many studies related to this topic have suggested that listening to glancing music might be just as annoying as understanding text while listening to the chatter around.
Even so, listening to instrumental music has only a slightly negative effect on understanding when learning. So, if you have to listen to music while studying, it might be better to listen to classic songs than the latest pop songs.
Even if you study in an empty room and take off your headphones, the big potential distractions can be in the form of smart phones and social media. In one study, students who worked on assignments for three hours on average had 35 disturbances, such as playing a cellphone, accessing the internet for non-study purposes or listening to music.
This type of dual-task activity is usually associated with poorer learning performance. For example, a study found that students who were allowed to send messages via cell phones during college had a lower understanding of the material than those who turned off cell phones. A recent survey found that increased daily Facebook usage was associated with increased academic disruption.
Although using other media when learning undermines their performance, these students may not always be aware, because they tend to overestimate their abilities in dual tasks. For example, one study asked participants to do one or two tasks at the same time. These tasks assess whether the statement is true and calculate the shape of the visual object. Although these adolescents and young people report strong confidence in the ability to do multiple tasks, in fact, their performance is almost always worse than when they only did one task.
Overall, these results indicate that the use of media while learning must be limited due to a decrease in performance when performing multiple tasks. One strategy to avoid the negative effects of the media is to take a brief technological break while you are accessing the internet, but then limit their use during your study time. Another option might be to avoid using smartphones and other devices before learning is completed that day, or by storing the device away from the study room.
So, when you think you can study in a crowded cafe, or with a TV on, or with your cellphone still connected to the world, chances are your learning outcomes are not as good as you think. By planning a learning session that minimizes external distractions, you can improve overall concentration and performance.