Marvin Chun: What Makes Some Brains More Focused Than Others? at TEDxKFAS (Transcript)

Marvin Chun

Here is the full transcript of neuroscience researcher Marvin Chun’s TEDx Talk Presentation: What Makes Some Brains More Focused Than Others? at TEDxKFAS conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: What Makes Some Brains More Focused Than Others by Marvin Chun at TEDxKFAS conference


For me, smart living has to start with being productive. How many of you would like to be more productive? If you are a student, you would like to get better grades without having to work harder.

If you have a job, you want to be more productive in your work, you want to gain more recognition for your work, without having to put more hours, because everyone has the same twenty-four hours a day.

And there are many ways to be more productive. But the one way that I’m going to talk about in my session is how you can improve your focus, and how you can improve your attention, and what psychology and neuroscience have to say to improve your focus and attention.

The big challenge that faces all of us, especially in modern society, is that there’s too much information. It’s both a blessing, but also a curse, that we have access to infinite amounts of information. All the knowledge that has been produced by humankind is at the end of your thumbs just by opening up your phone. And again, it’s a huge privilege, and we’re very lucky to be in this kind of era.

But on the other hand, it’s very hard to choose, and it’s very hard to decide where to start, because we are constantly confronted with too much information.

Secondly, we also distract ourselves. It’s hard to focus on our own. One good example is that you commonly see people walking down the street with their eyes glued to their phone. And, of course, they’re somewhat oblivious to their surroundings.

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[Video clip]

See he’s coming to the door and boom, he just hits the door, walks right into it.

In the next video is a woman walking in a mall checking out her cell phone. And you can see that she fell straight into that fountain.

Okay? So, you know, we distract ourselves all the time, making us oblivious to our surroundings. These are comical examples, but, of course, there are more serious dangerous examples.

For instance, if you’re driving a train — an engineer driving a train, and you lose your focus for even just a few seconds, then if you don’t slow down your speed your train is going to run off the tracks to very dangerous effect.

So these are just a few examples of how we are overloaded with information and how we distract ourselves.

How Can We Improve Our Focus?

And so the question is: How can we improve our focus? We are living in what John Cassidy of “The New Yorker” magazine calls the “attention deficit disorder economy” or the “attention deficit disorder society.” And the consequences of that we’re still trying to understand.

We know that it means that we’re a little less focused, more distracted, we may be more shallow. This overwhelming information may make us less productive. And as I just pointed out over here, it can also lead to dangerous situations.

The economic cost of attention deficit has been estimated to be even up to about $200 billion in the United States alone. These are serious problems that affect our productivity.

So here’s an example. I want to see how well you can attend at the beginning of my talk. This is a video, and your task is to focus on the team with white clothes and ignore the team with black clothes, Okay? They’re going to run around the screen, and your task is to count how many times they’re passing the ball to other players on the screen — other white players, white T-shirt players, on the screen.

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