Can fidgeting help you focus?

Interesting article by Sarah Ayoub (@bysarahayoub) in the Guardian about this very common behavior. The adaptive functions of fidgeting are beginning to be recognized, says UC-Santa Cruz professor Katherine Isbister—
—and this has led, she tells Ayoub, "to an increase in innovation around products that are intentionally designed and marketed to support fidgeting."
Further, Ayoub notes, "Isbister is currently working with specialists in children’s social-emotional learning, including Julie Schweitzer of UC-Davis, to do research on the impact of fidget objects on attention for people with ADHD."
In THE EXTENDED MIND, I write about the work of both Isbister and Schweitzer:
"Even among those without an ADHD diagnosis, the amount of stimulation required to maintain optimal alertness varies from person. Indeed, it may differ for the same individual over the course of a day.
We have at our disposal a flexible and sensitive mechanism for making the necessary adjustments: fidgeting.
At times we may use small rhythmic movements to calm our anxiety and allow us to focus; at other moments, we may drum our fingers or tap our feet to stave off drowsiness—
— or toy with an object like a pen or a paperclip as we ponder a difficult concept.

Katherine Isbister believes that the social disapproval often directed at fidgeting is misplaced.
Though we imagine that we can manage our mental
activity from within our heads, it’s often more effective to employ the movements of our bodies for that purpose—to engage in what she calls 'embodied self-regulation.'
Isbister would reverse the usual chain of command in which the brain tells the body what to do. 'Changing
what the *body* does,' she notes, 'can change our feelings, perceptions, and thoughts.'"


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More from @anniemurphypaul

29 May
Lovely insight from @GlenPearson in the London Free Press. We usually think of awe as being induced by a truly grand or majestic natural scene—and, research shows, the experience of awe acts as a "reset button" for the human brain, allowing us to see things afresh.
But awe can be inspired by more modest encounters with nature, Pearson reminds us. "Co-operating with the natural order produces within us a sense of awe by putting us in touch with things beyond our daily frame of reference," he writes.
"For all its familiarity, gardening is essentially a mystery —the process of growing lies beyond our complete understanding. Watching our gardens bloom reminds us that we are part of something far more significant."
Read 4 tweets
28 May
One more good reason to move while we're doing mental work: we literally SEE things more clearly.

When we’re engaged in physical activity, our visual sense is sharpened, especially with regard to stimuli appearing in the periphery of our gaze.
This shift, which is also found in non-human animals, makes evolutionary sense: the visual system becomes more sensitive when we are actively exploring our environment. When our bodies are at rest—that is,
sitting still in a chair—this heightened acuity is dialed down.
Such activity-induced alterations in the way we process visual information constitute just one example of how moving our bodies changes the way we think. Scientists have long known that overall physical fitness
supports cognitive function.
Read 5 tweets
27 May
A reader who received an advance copy of THE EXTENDED MIND just told me that he used this technique, described in the book, to get three colleagues on the same page in a meeting: Image
"Researchers recommend that we implement a specific sequence of actions in response to our teammates’ contributions: we should ACKNOWLEDGE, REPEAT, REPHRASE, AND ELABORATE ON what other group members say.
"Studies show that engaging in this kind of communication elicits more complete and comprehensive information.

It re-exposes the entire group to the information that was shared initially, improving group members’ understanding of and memory for that information.
Read 13 tweets
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
24 May
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.
Read 8 tweets

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