Our ability to pay close attention is both a blessing and a curse

Sometimes paying close attention can cause us to overlook the seemingly obvious. Then again, if we couldn't focus our minds on a single task, we'd never get anything done.

Consider, for example, that most radiologists fail miserably at the Gorilla Test when perusing a brain scan for signs of cancer. On one hand: Hey! Brain! You completely overlooked the gorilla! On the other: Good on you, Brain. Ignore the gorilla. You're supposed to be looking for cancer, remember?


In the latest installment of It's Okay to be Smart, Joe Hanson explores some of the science behind human attention, and how we use it to filter through the stimuli that surround us. As he explains, the brain's capacity for focus is something of a double edged sword – but then, maybe that's what makes humans so sharp.

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I work in advertising and can't come up with concepts while music is playing because I get distracted - even when I'm not actively listening to the music. It's like I literally can't hear myself think, and need to turn off the music because I can't focus enough to tune it out.

Strange thing is, when it comes to storyboarding concepts, I find that music helps pass the time, without negatively affecting my work. I suppose drawing is a more mechanical activity (one that still requires some thinking, mind you), while ideation is by definition cerebral.

I suppose drawing ( and other physical activities that still require some thinking, like driving) shares something similar to sports, when an athlete is said to be "in the zone" : when you don't even think about what you're doing because your body already knows what to do.