MT: This is Maura Thomas from RegainYourTime.com. Thanks for listening to the fifth and final part of my interview with Dr. John Dovidio, psychology professor at Yale University. You can see the previous posts by clicking the link at the top of this page and prior pages. And if you’re interested in reading up on the current research, please visit the “Research and Resources” page of this website.
I’ve read some research suggesting that there is a real benefit in the quiet moments that we used to have, the time in between things — waiting in line, or even sitting at a red light, or just the moments in between doing other things. We used to have an opportunity for our mind to just wander. Our brains sometimes used to process what we had heard, and create connections among things. This is really where the learning happens. Now, there is some fear that we don’t have those moments of quiet anymore because, in every moment of stillness, we whip out our iPhone and check our email, or check our Facebook status, or jump on the Internet, or play a game on our phone. Now that we have all this stimulation in our pocket, do you think that there’s a danger of losing those moments of “mind wandering” that we used to have?
JD: There is a lot of evidence that suggests that part of learning is taking the time to consolidate, to reflect upon things, to make sure that what we know just has to reverberate enough in our head for it to stay there. That’s a simple way of saying it. There’s a lot of work that also shows that there are these times that we develop insights by not actively thinking about something, but different pieces, or different elements to the solution of a problem just appear to us through insight, and not in a logical fashion. This insight usually comes during those times following a period of consolidation and reflection, where you basically have to become inwardly focused to start thinking about the thoughts, and then those thoughts can come to coalesce in some unique, synthetic way that becomes a creative insight. And if we’re always focused outward, we’re not going to do as much of that; we’re going to rely on creativity coming from the outside rather than from the inside. On the other hand, to give you the balance of it, the other thing about humans is that when we begin to feel we’ve reached a limit, we almost reflexively back off to gain at least enough solitude to be able to regroup, consolidate, and move forward. So the question becomes, not if we’re not going to have those moments of solitude, but that we just may have fewer and fewer of them as we go on. If people need time to think, it’s not like we can’t turn off the machines. It’s not that we don’t go into a shower, where we don’t have the cell phone on and our computer on. Maybe when we start losing those private moments, we’re in more trouble (laughing). But people will probably structure their day so that they’ll have those private moments at different times.
MT: Do you think that we’ll continue to recognize that we need those moments, and take them? I have people tell me all the time that their best ideas come to them in the shower, just for the exact reason that you just said. And one client even told me that he got some water soluble crayons so he could write on the shower tiles, because that’s when he has his best ideas. I told him, it’s because it’s the only time that you’re not interrupted. That was a surprise to him. You know, when I said that, he hadn’t thought about it. “Wow, you’re right,” he said. “Those are the only moments of quiet that I ever get.” So, to me, that raises a concern that, while people may be capable of stepping back and taking those moments, they might not recognize that they need them — especially children who are constantly exposed to all the stimulation.
JD: Yes, the biggest problem is with kids. Part of it has to do with seeking new stimulations and new information. So kids tend not to be as reflective, anyway. Even if you give them that free time, it doesn’t mean that they’re using the same kind of consolidation that an adult would, or in the same way an adult would handle that. If, in fact, you don’t even allow them that time, then they’re going to be less likely to be able to do that when they become adults, because they won’t know how to do it. Again, the issue is is not having all the media available. It has to do with things like training people when to use it, and when not to use it. I think adults enforcing a quiet time, a non-electronic time, is not a bad thing, even though kids may resent it. Part of what we need to teach kids is how to have a little bit of self-control. You can’t do what you want, when you want, all the time. But part of being a kid is wanting to do what you want, whenever you want, as soon as you want.
JD: So, that’s the age-old challenge we have. Now, having the electronic media, which is more seductive, just makes it a little bit more complicated and much more difficult to do.
MT: Great point. I want to be respectful of your time, so while I feel I could discuss this with you forever, I will call it here and say thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me. Dr. John Dovidio from Yale University, thank you very much.
JD: Well, thank you!
MT: Thank you all for visiting, and be sure to check this space again for future interviews with researchers in the fields of attention, multitasking, productivity, and technology. This is Maura Thomas with RegainYourTime.com.