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The Michael Shermer Show

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Amishi Jha on the Neuroscience of Attention

Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day (book cover)

Research shows we are missing 50 percent of our lives because we aren’t paying attention. From the constant buzz of your phone and the lure of your media feed to your unrelenting, all-encompassing, and ever-growing mental to-do list — the demands on your attention have never been so severe. The result is an escalating crisis, where we feel mentally foggy, scattered, and overwhelmed. Remarkably, the solution to our attention crisis has been right here in front of us.

In this conversation with the acclaimed neuroscientist Amishi Jha, she shows why whether you’re simply browsing, talking to friends, or trying to stay focused in an important meeting, you can’t seem to manage to hang on to your attention. Why is it that no matter how hard you try, you seem to find yourself somewhere else — if you’re even aware you’ve drifted off to that place. Dr. Jha recounts her neuroscience research revealing that, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with you — your brain isn’t broken. The human brain evolved to be distractible. And there’s even better news: You can train your brain to pay attention more effectively.

Dr. Amishi P. Jha is professor of psychology at the University of Miami. She serves as the Director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, which she co-founded in 2010. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California–Davis and postdoctoral training at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University. Dr. Jha’s work has been featured at NATO, the World Economic Forum, and The Pentagon. She has received coverage for the New York Times, NPR, TIME, Forbes and more. Watch her TED Talk on “How to Tame Your Wandering Mind” with 5 million+ views.

Shermer and Jha discuss:

  • her personal experiences that led her to study the neuroscience of attention,
  • how the mind works: from basic rationality to mind reading (theory of mind) to mental travel,
  • what attention evolved to do,
  • how attention is powerful, fragile, and trainable,
  • how attention is diverted: depleted attention, hijacked attention, fragmented attention, disconnected attention,
  • gorilla inattentional blindness,
  • police and military: distorted attention bias,
  • stress and attention,
  • negativity bias and attention,
  • thought flooding and attention,
  • active listening and attention,
  • multitasking,
  • the attention economy: from legacy media to social media,
  • new neuroscience research on how to train attention,
  • how to find your focus through the “flashlight” metaphor of attention,
  • how to live in the “now” without neglecting the past and the future,
  • how biased thinking affects attention and clarity,
  • meta-awareness: how to pay attention to your attention,
  • exercises in how to improve your attention and achieve peak mind, and
  • mindfulness and well-being.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on December 4, 2021.

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