Thursday, April 29, 2010

This Tip Will Save Your Life

First, let me tell you something really important about your brain. The most complex organ in your body, your brain is a magnificent instrument, a kind of tissue-based electro-chemical computer. But as powerful as it is, it has limitations. Usually the limitations have a benefit. Like this one:

          You can pay attention to only one thing at a time.

Yes, you can shift your attention back and forth rapidly while multi-tasking, but in any given moment, your brain is, and only can be, focused on one thing at a time. This is a GOOD thing. Because there is so much happening around us that if our brain allowed us to perceive everything at once, the perception would be chaotic. We couldn't deal with any one thing.

My favorite example is talking with someone at a party. Within earshot, there may be more than 20 separate conversations going on. But you hear only the one you're having with the person you're talking to. Now, you can shift your attention to the conversation going on behind you, but as soon as you do, you can no longer track or remember what the person in front of you is saying. Try it sometime!

Now while you're focused and listening, if someone fifteen feet away from you says your name, guess what will happen. That's right - you'll automatically shift your attention. Why? Because a part of your brain has sent an emergency signal to the thalamus - the command-and-control center - to pay attention to something that may be important to you.

But as you strain to hear what people are saying about you, yes, once again you can't track or remember what the person in front of you is saying.

This happens even if you decide to day-dream about a past event. While you're replaying the memory, you won't track or remember what the person you're talking with is saying.

You can only pay attention to one thing at a time.

Now how can this information save your life?

Simple. When you're driving a car, if you try to key in a number on your cell phone, during the time it takes to do that, you will not be able to pay attention to what is coming at you on the highway. Using a cell phone while driving is far more dangerous than most people realize, because of how our attention works.

More about this on

This is the real reason why people shouldn't use cell phones while driving. Or look for something in your purse. Or try to deal with a problem with your kids in the back seat. You get the picture.

Tell your friends. Your knowledge of the brain will impress them. And maybe you'll save their lives, too.

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