We tend to think of attention as an individual resource: MY attention, directed at MY chosen target.

But SHARED attention is an equally valuable resource. When a group of people is skillfully attending to the same thing at the same time, they work better together.
Studies of groups laboring on a shared task—from students programming a robot to surgeons performing an operation—show that the members of effective
teams tend to synchronize their gaze, looking at the same areas at the same time.
More of these “moments of joint attention” are associated with more successful outcomes.

Moreover, research suggests that the ability to coordinate such moments can be acquired with practice.
One study of physician teams performing surgery on a simulator found that the gaze of experienced surgeons overlapped at a rate of about 70 percent, while the gaze of novices overlapped only about 30 percent of the time.
Interestingly, effective collaborators aren’t ALWAYS looking at the same place at the same time; rather, they cycle between looking on their own, then looking together.
Our emphasis on attention as a purely individual resource leads us to overlook the value of shared attention.

An approach to group work that is informed by the extended mind would intentionally cultivate the skill of engaging in shared attention.

Over on Facebook, my friend Bob Sullivan (@RedTapeChron) commented, "This seems even more important in an age when all manner of gadgets are competing for (and usually winning) our attention."

I pointed him to another interesting paper—
—an article about how team members in the workplace can be physically present but absorbed in their devices, and what that does to the sense of "co-presence" among colleagues.


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More from @anniemurphypaul

25 May
In his review of THE EXTENDED MIND in the Wall Street Journal today, writer Matthew Hutson singles out one particular theme of the book, and I'm so glad he did.

That theme concerns the fact that the raw materials of intelligent thought are by no means equitably distributed.
Hutson's conclusion reads:

"By removing the brain from the vat, Ms. Paul writes, thinking 'can become as dynamic as our bodies, as airy as our spaces, as rich as our relationships—as capacious as the whole wide world.'"
"And if you argue that only the privileged have access to untouched nature, large monitors, accomplished mentors and abundant classroom supplies, well, Ms. Paul has beat you to the punch."
Read 6 tweets
24 May
"Groups typically assume their most confident members are their most knowledgeable," note the authors of a new paper on collaboration.

That works out well for everyone when the most confident member also happens to be accurate in his or her judgment.
But I think we all know that confidence doesn't always equal accuracy! Hence the importance of what the researchers (Philip Tetlock and two others) call "collective confidence calibration."
A group is correctly calibrated when more accurate members are more confident in their own judgment, and less accurate members are less confident.

When this happens, the authors found, "subsequent group interactions are likelier to yield increased accuracy."
Read 5 tweets
23 May
Cognitive scientists refer to stories as “psychologically
privileged,” meaning they are granted special treatment by our brains.

Compared to other informational formats, we attend to stories more closely. We understand them more readily. And we remember them more accurately. Image
Research has found that we recall as much as *50
percent* more information from stories than from expository passages.

A thread about why stories exert these effects on us:
One reason is that stories shape the way information is shared, in cognitively congenial ways.

The human brain has evolved to seek out evidence of CAUSAL relationships: this happened because of that. Stories are, by their nature, all about causal relationships:
Read 9 tweets
15 Apr
In 2008, Nicholas Carr wrote a seminal article for The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

In the 13 years since then, digital technology has become only more pervasive and more integrated into our thinking processes—for better and for worse. But we know a lot more now. 1/9
In place of what was mostly speculation on Carr’s part, there is now a booming field of empirical research into exactly HOW and WHEN and WHY our encounters with technology influence our thinking.

For example: this new study from researchers at the University of Tübingen. 2/9
The study examines the pluses and minuses of "cognitive offloading"—the act of allowing our devices to hold information or perform operations for us that would usually happen inside our own heads. 3/9
Read 9 tweets
14 Apr
So powerful is the effect of gesturing while learning that it can improve learners’ comprehension of a complex concept, EVEN WHEN they are not aware of the connection between the concept and the gesture they've been instructed to make.
Simply making a conceptually-congruent gesture while they’re learning about the concept helps clarify and reinforce the concept—forming a second channel of instruction that’s independent of the verbal one.
Matthew Hutson writes about "hand movements’ subconscious effects on learning" in a new article for Scientific American. He describes a study led by Icy (Yunyi) Zhang of UCLA, recently published in the journal Cognitive Science.
Read 8 tweets
13 Apr
UNC-Chapel Hill has the monument known as the Old Well. Penn State has the building known as Old Main. UVA has the Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson.

All of these are "iconic spaces" on university campuses—but who uses them? Who feels that they belong there? 1/8 Image
Researchers led by UVA psychologist Sophie Trawalter recently examined the relationship between students' socioeconomic status and their use of iconic public space. Lower-SES students were less likely to feel that they belonged in these spaces, and less likely to use them. 2/8
(Notably, the researchers found similar patterns by race: students of color use iconic public space on campus less than do white students and, in turn, this predicts lower sense of belonging at the university.) 3/8
Read 8 tweets

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