Learning to Ignore Irrelevant Information Can Improve Your Efficiency.

We have long known that when people are searching for something, they are able to find it more quickly if they know what it looks like.

To illustrate this point, think of trying to locate your car in a crowded parking lot, or trying to find a friend in a busy airport. In both instances, you know exactly what or who you are looking for. But new research suggests knowing what to avoid can be equally helpful.

Previous studies have concluded that attempting to ignore irrelevant information slows people down, but a study just released by Johns Hopkins University (and available in the journal Psychological Science later this month) suggests that when people are given time to learn what to ignore, they are able to search faster and more efficiently.

In two experiments, researchers had study participants search for a certain letter on a computer screen. Subjects were instructed to locate either capital letter “B” or “F” among other letters of varying colors. Sometimes the participants were told the “B” or “F” would not be red (for example). Other times they were given no color hints.

When participants were given one color to consistently ignore, their reaction slowed at first, (as past studies have indicated) but after some practice (approximately 100 trials) they found the target letters much more quickly than the participants who were not given a color to eliminate.

Researchers found that the more information participants were able to ignore, the faster they could acquire their target. So while trying to ignore distractions may initially slow people down, research indicates that over time, people become more efficient when they know what is not worthy of their attention.

These results offer new insight into how the mind processes complex information. “The ability to ignore is a key part of the ability to pay attention,” said Howard Egeth, co-author of the study – which was funded in part by a grant from the Office of Naval Research and John Hopkins University’s Science of Learning Institute.

These findings have important implications for training programs across a wide variety of occupations from airport baggage screeners to radiologists to submarine sonar technicians. But improving your ability to filter out distractions can be beneficial for everyone. In learning to ignore small stuff, you can make space for deep and efficient mental activity.

In your Krav Maga training, as in developing situational awareness, learning what to ignore will allow you to process key information – making your recognition and response time much more substantial. Next time you’re training, chart the elements you notice right before making a defense and track what elements indicate a specific (and correct) defense (and those that do not). You’ll love the results.

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