Tweet : Studying with Distractions

In a study “A shield against distraction by Halin, N., Marsh, J. E., Hellman, A., Hellström, I., & Sörqvist, P. (2014) sought to better understand the distractive conditions under which we are able to learn effectively.
Halin et al. were looking at how the effect of distraction changes based on the difficulty of the material you are trying to learn and working memory capacity.
Participants were given four passages to read about fictitious cultures, two in an easy to read font, and two in a difficult to read font.
While reading the passages, they heard someone describing another fictitious culture, which participants were told to disregard.
The participants were then given multiple-choice tests over the passages to assess their learning.
The results were of two types:
1) When looking at the easy font, the passage with the background noise was remembered poorly than the passage read in silence.
2)However, when looking at the hard font, the passage with background noise was remembered a little bit better than the passage read in silence
ie, When distracted, people did better on the hard task, but when in silence, people did better on the easy task.
Further, Halin et al. looked at how these results might vary depending on someone’s working memory capacity.
What they did was looked at each person’s “level of distractibility” and checked to see if that was related to working memory capacity when reading the easy font or hard font.
In case of the easy font, as working memory capacity went up, distractibility went down. The more someone can hold in mind, the less likely they are to be bothered by background noise.
But in case of the hard to read font, it didn’t matter. When you absolutely have to concentrate to understand something, distractions are less of a problem.
The persistent pattern: When learning is more difficult, recall is often better.

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