Looking for something? According to a new study by psychologists at Johns Hopkins University, knowing what not to search for can be just as helpful as keeping your eyes peeled for the prize.
According to IFLScience, researchers asked participants to find a B or an F amid a jumble of colored letters on a computer screen. Occasionally, subjects were given hints that the B or F wouldn’t be a certain color. Other times, they received no clues.
After about 100 rounds of the game, individuals who were told they should ignore one color were able to find the letter they were looking for much faster than subjects who weren’t provided with any hints. The more they repeated the experiment this way, the quicker they got.
These results, which were published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that ignoring things plays a major part in how we pay attention, Forbes reports. When we're trying to focus on something, we'll actively try to block out certain stimuli that might serve as a distraction. And if we’re given time and practice to hone our ability to “ignore” things, we can save time and effort searching for what we really need.
It’s a fascinating insight, but how can it help us? “Individuals who explicitly ignore distracting information improve their visual search performance, a critical skill for professional searchers, like radiologists and airport baggage screeners,” the study’s lead author, Corbin A. Cunningham, said in a statement. “This work has the potential to help occupations that rely on visual search by informing future training programs.”
Curious to see how this psychological trick works? Try out the experiment via the video below.