Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Effect of Feelings on Concentration - II

What is forgetting? Anything which has remained a minimum period of time in our memory gets written in our long term memory. Anything which considerably gains our attention cannot be forgotten at all. There are limits to the quality of remembering though. A healthy person cannot forget his/her parents’ names for example. It is a fact that we have increasing difficulty to remember the details of the past as time proceeds. This should not make you think that you have forgotten everything. You lose the means to reach the memories not the memories themselves. Many times has a person got astonished at how many details he remember when he enters the same classroom he has gone to primary school.

What is temporary forgetting? Indeed all forgetting is temporary as we do not forget anything in our long term memory. I mean short term forgetting with temporary. For example when you are eating your favorite meal you forget the rest of the world. When you are studying for a critical exam you forget the rest of the world. When you go to shopping you forget to buy the most needed item.

Air Traffic Controllers do forget also. After solving a critical situation, it is not rare that they forget they have to handle a secondary one. The large system controllers’ brains blank out or forget some critical data sometimes. I remember an airplane accident, in which the pilots socialized with some small talk and forget to enter a route point to the flight computer …

Concentration causes forgetting. It focuses the attention on a certain subject area and considers only things related to this area. This causes the loss of access to the secondary areas and hence the temporary forgetting of them. Situation awareness concept is developed to handle this problem. Situation awareness requires continuous tracing of system variables whenever possible.

Concentrating is good when absolute concentration on a single thing is needed. When a partial attention is required for a specific task besides the task of general surveillance of others it is not good to concentrate too much. Divided attention requires not too much concentration on only one of specific tasks. Concentration causes masking.

Everybody remembers a student who forgets her line when reading a poem from her memory in primary school. Excitement, strong feelings cause memory retrieval failures also. In this situation, concentration
is not the culprit. Concentration is required and obtained. The required mental resources are ready.
What is the thing that makes the child forget while reading the poem from her memory?

Another similar situation can be observed when you are walking down the apartment stairs. If you look at each step and each stair you step on, you tumble… If you get excited and afraid you get stiff your muscles harden. If you ‘let it go’, ‘let it lose’ a little bit and walk with confidence (to something out of your control) you walk down the stairs easily…

If you concentrate too much, more than necessary and increase the stiffness of your posture, you increase your brain’s cognitive section’s control. On the other hand, remembering requires the functioning of your subconscious. You do not remember things with using your logic. You give hints, keys and then your subconscious finds and brings them to your conscious. Remembering requires a fine balance between conscious and subconscious entities. So, the primary school student who stiffens and gets excited does not give a chance to her subconscious to retrieve the lines. She fails.

Tonus – posture, In fact, there is more to the problem than stiffening or hardening the muscles… Yes, when concentration increases cognitive abilities increase and they use most of the brain resources but how does this happen? How is the balance obtained between different functional parts of the brain?
How does a professional theater actor remember thousands of lines without any mistake? What does a pianist learn in many years of education that she does not forget in the concert?

A professional learns to orchestrate his brains functional parts through education and professional practice. Choosing the right thinking speed sets the right timeframes to enable the brain to activate its right functional part itself. Excessive concentration hurts memory retrieval not only because of the muscle stiffening and hardened posture but also because of the thinking speed cognition reaches. Cognition can reach thinking speeds that feelings use by the help of high concentration. This may hurt the overall functioning of the brain and may be the subconscious (I have a few more words on that for the future articles).

There are many implications of the thinking speed. But, I will note here only, you must select the right timeframe and hence the right thinking speed in order to be successful in any task. Be careful feelings are the fastest processing brain activity, emergency processes(programmed), automatic processes (thinks you do by memorizing) are the second, cognitive processes the third, safety related risk sensing(the slowest). So, next time you lock the door of your house, do not behave as if you are typing on your computer. Last but not the least, the speed of cognition can be controlled by concentration. Some of the emergency processes such as fear etc. are built-in feelings, I indicate learned processes as emergency processes.

It is vital to select the right posture and muscle tonus which will give the correct message to our brain at first. Then one must set the right salience, the right time frame and thinking speed and then increase the concentration to the required level, nothing more nothing less… One can set himself the right mood to do a task by using his education and PERSONALITY. Each person is a different solution and each profession requires a specific mental set of human mind.