A few days ago, I posted a piece about attention spans and when people will “bail” from reading additional text. As a writer, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in the reader’s mind so we can craft ways to capture their attention. And that Bailer’s Point actually ties in nicely with the fourth “Brain Rule” discussed by John Medina. *
People won’t pay attention to boring things.
It seems that when we encounter any stimulus our brains go through a number of discrete phases to process that information.
Intrinsic Alertness – our ability to detect something.
Phasic Alertness – our ability to focus on that something.
Executive Network – our ability to decide what to do about that something.
And despite what people may think, the brain’s attention spotlight can only focus on one thing at a time. We process concepts sequentially. Task shifting, or multi-tasking, delays accomplishment time by 50% and increases errors by 50%. We’re just not wired well to do multiple things at the same time. We are also much better at detecting patterns and then extrapolating the meaning of events than we are at registering and remembering the details of those events.
We saw before how readers can check out within seconds if their attention is not corralled, and listeners, it turns out, can only hold on for about 10 minutes before tuning out.
So what enhances or extends attention spans? How can we reach into the readers’ or listeners’ brains and shake their frontal lobes around without screaming PAY ATTENTION?! !
We can add emotion!
It seems emotion coupled with information not only captures attention, but it significantly improves retention. People remember personal stories bathing in feelings better than they will rote recitations of facts, no matter how intriguing we might think those facts are.
As writers, we need to try to engage all of our reader’s senses. So they can taste it, hear it, smell it, feel it, breathe it in.
But it also turns out that we need to give people frequent breaks. As a lecturer, that may mean switching topics or keeping the presentation short. As a writer, it means we need to effectively use punctuation. Let the reader come up for air once and a while.
That’s one reason I like to use sentence fragments. Even though were not supposed to 🙂
And on that note, I’ll call it quits today. Except if I can hold your attention a little longer, there are a few more fun pics at the bottom of this virtual page.
Feature Photo: An old hotel in an 1800’s mining town has a character all of its own, but by bending the light and showering it with color, we add emotion. Fire! It draws in the eye and holds the attention. With blogging, I’ve found that a great pic can really draw in the reader. Of course, what I think is great others might find boring.
Past Posts on Brain Rules by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist.
I hope you all have a day of excitement filled with brain candy. Here are a few more pics I played with, turning the ordinary into a little something more.