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Brain Rule #4 Attention – We don’t pay attention to boring things.

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina

Brain Rule #4 Attention – We don’t pay attention to boring things.

Medina begins by illustrating what he later calls an Emotionally Competent Stimulus. Any emotion on the emotional spectrum will do – joy, fear, excitement, etc. According to research, this ECS can initiate attention that lasts about ten minutes. Our ability to pay attention is related to our memory. Associating details to the general idea that we already understand and remember demonstrates how it works. Further, interest plays a key role in choosing the objects of our attention. Awareness also plays an essential part. Without an awareness of something, how could we pay attention to it?

Dr. Medina relates the work of Michael Posner from about thirty years ago. As a part of Posner’s model, four of the behavioral characteristics that Medina believes have “considerable practical potential” follow:

1) “Emotions get our attention

2) Meaning before details,

3) The brain cannot multitask, and

4) The brain needs a break.” P. 79-89

While some seem to “multitask” better than others (i.e. women better than men), according to Medina, our brains deal with information sequentially, one at a time. Those who seem to do better have a better working memory than those who have difficulty “multi-tasking.” Posner’s model explains that “multi-tasking” follows these steps: 1) Shift Alert 2) Activation of Task #1; 3) Disengagement; 4) Activation of Task # 2. All of this takes time from the initial task. In a sense our brain multi-tasks by tending to our breathing and other bodily functions, but can only attend one attention-rich task at a time. P. 86-87

As a college professor, Medina organizes his 50 minute lectures into 10 minute segments, with an emotional stimulus used as a hook to gain attention for each 10 minute segment.

This concept forms the basis for the neurodevelopmental plan to have short, frequent and intense activities. Our activities are generally designed to last no more than 10 minutes. We instruct our clients to alternate activities following an activity using one system with an activity using a different system (visual, auditory, tactile, motor etc.). By intense, we want our clients to focus on the activity they are doing. Understanding how the brain works gives us direction as to how to teach our children and how we can learn.


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