Paying Attention or Fatally Distracted? Concentration, Memory, and Multi-Tasking in a Multi-Media World

Journal of Legal Writing Institute, Vol. 16, p. 419, 2010

44 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2010

See all articles by Sam Jacobson

Sam Jacobson

Willamette University - College of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2010

Abstract

Success in law school requires intense and sustained cognitive effort. To successfully engage in this cognitive heavy-lifting, students must be able to pay attention and concentrate. Law professors often bemoan that students are not engaged in the classroom discussion when they surf the web or answer e-mail instead of marveling at the intricacies of joinder, justiciability, or executory interests. Some law professors respond that this situation is no different from the doodling and mind-wandering of the pre-laptop era. Both are right, and both are wrong. They are right in stating that wandering minds existed before laptops, and they are right that students whose minds are wandering are not engaged in the classroom discussion. However, they are wrong in thinking that this does not present a problem in learning, or that the problem will be solved simply by banning laptops.

This article discusses the role of attention in learning, what limits attention, and how to improve the ability to pay attention and concentrate. Attention requires ignoring stimuli that are not relevant to the task at hand. This is especially important because of the severely limited capacity of working memory, the cognitive function essential to inputting information into long term memory and to extracting information from long term memory. Effective learning will not occur if the limited capacity of working memory is diverted from the task at hand to irrelevant stimuli. What determines successful performance on reasoning and other higher-order cognitive tasks, such as legal analysis, is the ability to control attention. Our attention is undermined by multi-tasking, stress and anxiety, and fatigue. People can improve attention by managing distractions, dividing tasks into manageable chunks, managing stress, and getting sleep.

Keywords: Attention, Concentration, Multi-Tasking, Learning, Working Memory, Stress, Anxiety, Sleep

Suggested Citation

Jacobson, Sam, Paying Attention or Fatally Distracted? Concentration, Memory, and Multi-Tasking in a Multi-Media World (June 1, 2010). Journal of Legal Writing Institute, Vol. 16, p. 419, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1641768

Sam Jacobson (Contact Author)

Willamette University - College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

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