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Perks of Ignoring
06 April 2016

Perks of Ignoring

How quickly can you find the T in this image? Will it help if I tell you it’s not red? The answer is more complicated than you might think. It has been known for a long time that if a person knows exactly what they are looking for they’ll find it faster, but psychologists have now determined that knowing what to ignore (in this case red shapes) can ultimately improve a person’s search speed too. Interestingly, earlier studies had suggested the opposite was true: that when trying to ignore unnecessary information, people were less efficient. In a recent study, however, an element of training was included. When people practiced ignoring an irrelevant colour in the types of tests shown above, they found target shapes consistently faster than those who hadn’t been told to ignore that particular colour. Somewhat ironically then, learning to ignore seems to help with paying attention.

Written by Ruth Williams

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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