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David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
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Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
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Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Is Multitasking Bad for the Brain?

Question: What happens to the mind when we get used to paying partial attention?

Gary Small: We all know we multitask. I mean this is a common part of everyday life and you know I like to drink my coffee in the morning and read the newspaper, so that’s a form of multitasking. Now of course I don’t do that when I’m driving because that is dangerous, so we know of many dangers of multitasking. We know that middle-age people who multitask don’t do as well as people who are focusing on one task and we also know that young people who multitask, they can complete the task more rapidly, but they make more errors, so we’re becoming faster, but sloppier when we multitask, but there is another mental process related to multitasking that’s often called partial continuous attention. Here we’re not just doing two or three tasks at the same time, we’re scanning the environment for new information at any point and this is a process that I think is becoming very popular now that we have all these new electronic communication gadgets, cell phones, PDAs, computers, the internet, so many people are at their workstation or at home in bed because we don’t have much demarcation these days between leisure life and work life, and they may be having a conversation on the phone or with someone next to them and they’re waiting for a little ding or a little sound or a new message that might be more interesting and exciting than whatever mental activity they’re engaged in at that time. Now there's dangers to that I think. Certainly there are social dangers. You can certainly insult someone if you answer your cell phone in the middle of a conversation, but I think it also may be a state of heightened mental stress because we’re constantly scanning the environment and we know from other studies that chronic stress is not good for the brain. In fact, laboratory animals under stress have smaller memory cells in the hippocampus. Human volunteers injected with stress hormones like cortisol have temporary impairment in learning and recall, so I think partial continuous attention it’s hard to resist, probably our dopamine circuits that are involved in reward systems drive it because we want that exciting new bit of information, but we have to be aware of it and try to manage it better.

Question: How can we counteract the effects of partial continuous attention?

Gary Small: I think the first step to managing partial continuous attention, or PCA if you want to give it an acronym, is to be aware of it and to certainly be aware of how it affects our face-to-face communication skills, how it can affect somebody personally. Not long ago I said to my teenage daughter, “You know, Rachel, when I’m talking to you and you’re texting at the same time I just don’t get the sense that you’re paying attention to my conversation.” So she looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry Dad, I don’t do this with my teachers.” And then looked right down and continued her texting. Now I can laugh about that, and she is an adolescent and it’s a different culture to some extent. It’s tolerated more in their age group, but I think there are still social gaffes that people get into as a result of partial continuous attention. I think another thing that’s important to do is to take breaks from the computer and if we’re having a face-to-face meeting maybe turn off some of the gadgets and not be tempted to be distracted by them.

In an age of cell phones, PDAs, and computers, the intense mental stress of continually paying only partial attention may be decreasing our memory capacity.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

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Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Has science made religion useless?

Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.

Videos
  • Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
  • This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
  • "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."

Signs of Covid-19 may be hidden in speech signals

Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.

Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Coronavirus
It's often easy to tell when colleagues are struggling with a cold — they sound sick.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
  • The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
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