Retrieval Practice: I Quiz Because I Care

Written by Dr. Althea Bauernschmidt

Now that the Spring 2018 semester is in full swing, CALM is back with a new series of blog posts exploring topics in attention, learning, and memory! This month we’ll be focusing on testing. Specifically we’ll be looking at retrieval practice, sometimes called the testing effect, as well as issues surrounding what makes a good test good (or a bad test bad). In this first introductory post I’ll be explaining retrieval practice.

We often get frustrated by everyday lapses in memory. Where did I park my car? What’s the name of the book my friend recommended me? When people find out that I study memory they almost always express that they wish they weren’t so forgetful. We get frustrated when we don’t have perfect recall of every aspect of our lives and assume that our memories are not working properly. As a memory researcher I can assure you that forgetting where you parked your car is not only normal – it’s actually a good thing. While it can be annoying, forgetting is actually a sign that our memories are working properly. Let me explain.

Our memories work by forming complex associations between cues in our environments and the information in our brains (Anderson & Schooler, 1991; Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1981). Cues are anything that triggers a memory. For example, seeing the words “peanut butter” might make you think of “jelly”*, or hearing a certain song might make you think of a movie. If we are studying for a test then we hope that the cues on the test (the questions) will make us remember the correct information. So what makes some cues better than others? Why does some information seem to be easier for us to remember than other information?

*For a certain set of older millennials you may have immediately thought of “peanut butter jelly time”. I’m sorry.


These questions can be better understood when we consider how memory actually works and what our memories are really designed to do. It can be tempting to think that memory is for remembering the past. On the surface the certainly seems reasonable. We use memory to remember the names of people we met at a work function, where we put our keys, and passages from our favorite books. But if we think of memory as primarily for remembering the past then we will be a bit let down by how often we forget the past. What’s the point of having this memory system if I have wander aimlessly around the parking lot looking for my car?? Memory researchers actually argue that memory is not for remembering the past; memory is for helping us predict the future (Szpunar & McDermott, 2008). Our memory system does this by taking into account complex patterns based on environment, context, and frequency. This information helps us generate the best possible information in response to a given cue (Karpicke, Lehman, & Aue, 2014). This theory of memory is supported by how we forget information. Information that doesn’t get used very often is forgotten – unless it is associated with an emotionally charged and therefore important event. Information that is used frequently is more easily remembered. Our memory systems have recognized that this comes up a lot in this context and make it easier to remember. The best predictor of the future is the past. Something that we encounter everyday is more likely to happen tomorrow than something that happens every few years.

This may feel a bit disappointing at first. After all, it’s frustrating when we can’t find our keys (or our car). Wouldn’t it be nice if we could always remember everything? Not so much. Consider for a minute what it would be like to remember everything all the time. Every time you saw or heard the word “key” you thought of every key you have ever encountered. You would need to consciously consider each option before deciding which key was most relevant to your situation. Instead of remembering where your current car keys are, you instead reminisce about the keys to your grandfather’s truck that were last seen on the refrigerator of the house you lived in 10 years ago. By conveniently forgetting most of the keys you have encountered, our memory system saves us time and energy. Your memory system helps remember the keys to your car and not your grandfather’s truck.

A simpler way of describing memory is that a memory, or an association between a cue and information, becomes better the more we use it. Practice makes perfect. Learning and memory researchers who study this process of cues activating information call it retrieval. Every time something is recalled and we go through this process of retrieval we get better at rebuilding the memory and make it easier to remember in the future (Roediger, McDermott, & McDaniel, 2011).

There are 3 important aspects of retrieval to keep in mind when trying to improve memory and learning. 1) Retrieval is cue-dependent, 2) Retrieval is a process that works best when spaced, and 3) Retrieval (and therefore testing) is NOT a neutral learning event.

Retrieval is cue-dependent.

Cue-dependent refers to the association between a cue in the environment and the information it is associated with. For example, if you were learning Japanese you would try to associate the cue “Ohayou” with “morning”. So the more times you are greeted with “ohayou!” and you recall that it means “morning!” the easier it will be for you remember that “ohayou” means “morning”. Because memory is cue-dependent that means it can be influenced by the context we are in when we encounter the cue. Often we are good at remembering something in one context, but struggle when we switch to a different context. For example, if art students are going to be tested on their knowledge of color theory and linear perspective by creating a piece of artwork, then they might struggle if they only memorized the definitions of color theory and linear perspective because the terms are being used in a different context. The cue-dependent nature of memory means that the best way for us to study and prepare for tests is to study in the way we expect to be tested. If our knowledge of art is going to be tested based on our ability to create certain types of art, then we should practice creating pieces with strong colors and the feeling of distance created by linear perspective. Not by memorizing the definitions of terms (though knowing the definitions will certainly be helpful).

Retrieval is a process that works best when spaced.



Take a moment to consider the following math problem:


3 x 2 + 7 = ?


If you are a bit rusty on your algebra you might take a second to remember what the order of operations is. You might then feel a small sense of accomplishment when you pull PEMDAS out of some corner of your mind. Then, armed with confidence that you can solve this math problem, you multiply 3 x 2 and get 6. Then you add 6 and 7 to get 13. Now that you have brushed up on your algebra skills, I invite you to attempt a second problem:



3 x 2 + 7 = ?



Was this second problem easier to solve than first? I’m willing to bet you were much faster at solving the second problem than the first problem. But did you apply the same processes that you did while solving the first problem? Probably not. You didn’t have to go through the same steps because you just solved the exact same problem. The same thing happens when we practice retrieval. When we retrieve information from memory we go through a number of steps similar to solving the math problem. If we immediately retrieve the same information from memory we don’t have to go through the same process again. But the more times we retrieve that information, the better we will be at remembering it in the future (Roediger, McDermott, & McDaniel, 2011). So the best thing we can do to improve our memory is to space out our studying, or retrieval practice (Karpicke & Bauernschmidt, 2011; Benjabmin & Tullis, 2010). This is a complicated way of saying what teachers already know: cramming doesn’t work for the long term. Cramming the night before, or minutes before might give you a temporary boost in memory, but spacing out your studying and preparing in advance gives you a much stronger grasp of the material.

Retrieval (and therefore testing) is NOT a neutral learning event.

Whether we’re learning Japanese, practicing for an art test, or solving math problems, we are using the active process of retrieval to make gains in learning. Anytime we retrieve a piece of knowledge we change our ability to recall that piece of knowledge in the future. Tests, quizzes, practicums, etc. can asses learning by asking students to retrieve knowledge to recognize a correct answer, produce a correct answer, or demonstrate a skill. However, this also means that tests, quizzes, practicums, etc. also changes their ability to retrieve that knowledge to recognize a correct answer, produce a correct answer, or demonstrate a skill. Every retrieval attempt (especially when they are spaced out) improves the association between a cue and the information in memory. This has some really straightforward and practical implications. If we want to get better at a certain skill, then we need to practice that skill. If we want students to learn basic skills because we feel they are useful in the real world, then we should have them practice those skills in real-world scenarios. For example, basic math is useful for keeping track of personal finances. One way to have students practice math in finance is to set up a small token economy in the classroom where they may earn tokens for good behavior and grades and then spend them to receive prizes and rewards. Students can keep track of their tokens in a checkbook. Activities like this are beneficial because they are more engaging than completing worksheets, but also because they take away some of the challenges that students have when they need to transfer skills they learned in one context (math problems in class) to another context (balancing a checkbook/tracking finances).


Before I finish talking about retrieval, I want to stress that testing is just one way that you can use or practice retrieval to help learning. Tests are often thought of as high-stakes, state mandated, and very limited ways of assessing students. By advocating for retrieval practice I am not necessarily advocating the use of more of these types of tests*. I am advocating for more retrieval practice. Retrieval practice could come in the form of an engaging classroom discussion where students have to use their knowledge of a text to argue for or against some stance. Retrieval practice could come in the form of review quiz games where students play on teams and compete for bonus points. Retrieval practice could come in the form of practicing skills, like in the example of creating artwork above. Retrieval practice can take many forms in and out of the classroom. As long we are mindful of what and how often we are practicing retrieval we’ll see substantial gains in learning and memory in and out of the classroom.

*In a second post later this month I will explore some the issues surrounding these types of tests and explain why, somewhat paradoxically, that means we need MORE tests.

Where is Your Focus?

Written by Katelynn Brown

“The real message is because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention. It’s about using the devices smartly but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to. The more you can concentrate the better you’ll do on anything, because whatever talent you have, you can’t apply it if you are distracted.” –Daniel Goleman


Attention and focus are two aspects of our everyday lives. In any activity, learning experience, or action that is presented throughout the day we demonstrate our ability to utilize focus and attention. Our ability to demonstrate and utilize focus and attention can be impacted by distractions. These distractions can come in multiple forms and can affect our ability to focus and concentrate. Many times we can become distracted and we do not even acknowledge that it has occurred. Especially in the 21st century, technology has become both a benefit and a hindrance to student attention and focus. Many times throughout the day we become distracted by cellphones and computers without even realizing it. In the classroom, it is important that educators guide students in developing and improving their ability to ignore distractions. As students embrace attention and focus, they are better able to learn and retain information in the classroom.

Can I Strengthen My Focus?

In the classroom, there are multiple techniques that educators can use to help students avoid distractions and strengthen their focus. These methods can include a variety of activities and practices that teachers can model, demonstrate, and incorporate into the classroom. Each of these methods can assist the students in strengthening and improving their knowledge of focus and selective attention. The integration of these instructional methods can truly influence the academic performance of students in the classroom by strengthening their ability to focus and diminishing their tendency to become distracted.

1.    Teach students what staying focused looks like

Throughout the day, teachers should model and explain what staying focused looks, sounds, and feels like. In the classroom, teachers can use interactive modeling. Interactive modeling is an effective way to show students how to stay focused. This instructional method not only shows students how to do a multitude of particular skills but also shows them why it is important to do it well. Teachers must explicitly explain to students why staying focused is important and then must work to model those behaviors to students. During this time, teachers model exactly what their eyes, mouths, hands, and feet should be doing when students are focused on a multitude of tasks.

2.   Get students up and moving

As people, but especially as children, we are naturally inclined to move and be active. Many times in the classroom, teachers forget that students are active individuals and thus our expectations are not realistic. Teachers can get students up and moving during instruction by including “Brain Breaks” into instruction. Teachers can increase the effectiveness of student learning by incorporating Brain breaks throughout the day. Brain breaks can include using yoga moves, playing a quick game, allowing students to walk around the classroom or wiggle, or using websites such as GoNoodle. As you take this time to allow students to move around, students will refocus and foster well-being and academic performance.

3.    Teach students how to refocus

One important way to help students build stamina is to give them strategies for getting back on track when they lose focus. One way to help students learn to refocus is for teachers to have students practice doing multiple things at once. As teachers give students multiple things at once, students are training their brains to focus on what they are doing. Through continues practice, students are less likely to lose focus. Another technique would be for teachers to teach students how to take small breaks without disrupting their concentration. When students notice that they have lost focus, teachers can show students how to use different techniques to help regain focus. These breaks can include breathing techniques, walking around, or taking time to move around.

4.   Help students build endurance

Students can improve and strengthen their ability to focus by building endurance. This can be done by having students think about focus related to something they are interested in. Teachers can have students think about areas that interest them and how that knowledge is developed through continuous focus and practice. Students can build endurance in any area through patience, practice, and time. In order for students to strengthen their endurance, teachers must provide students with opportunity and time to practice this skill. Through repeated practice, students will be able to effectively ignore distractions and utilize focus.

5.    Adjust instructional time frames


During instruction, sometimes teachers find that students are not able to maintain focus and stay on task. When these difficulties occur in the classroom, this would be the time to consider breaking content into smaller time intervals. Teachers need to remember that students can only concentrate on material for a limited amount of time. During instruction it might be necessary for teachers to adjust time frames if students are demonstrating difficulty focusing. Teachers should be cautious of lengthy instruction and lectures. While presenting instruction, it is important that teachers work to ensure that students remain involved in the material and active in the lesson. Teachers can do this by involving hands on instruction and questions into the lesson.

6.   Play memory games

Memory games helps students to strengthen their focus in a fun way. Through the use of these games, students are able to concentrate when challenged. In the school day, teachers can integrate these games into the regular instructional time. Teachers can also encourage this use of memory games during student’s free time as well. Games such as red-light-green-light, I-Spy, and Simon Says challenge students to focus and pay attention. Through these games, students are able to repeatedly practice focus through the use of a fun and interactive game.

7.    Breakdown tasks

This technique requires the teacher to be responsive and aware of the needs of students in the classroom. Teachers need to assess how students are performing in the classroom. Teachers need to remember that learning is not a one size fits all method. If students seem to demonstrate difficulty with the instructional material, teachers should attempt to differentiate instruction. Teachers can do this by breaking material into smaller chunks. Teachers should break up instruction into smaller chunks, as students complete chunks of instruction the students can take a break, and then return to the next chunk of information and instruction. With the implementation of this strategy, students may complete tasks faster.


In the classroom, there are various techniques that can be used to help students strengthen and improve their ability to focus. Teachers can help students to strengthen this skill with repeated practice of these various techniques. As students continue to practice focus and attention, the skill will become more automatic and students will begin to do it naturally. As students improve their ability to focus and pay selective attention, students can improve their learning experience and retain more information.



Cox, J. (n.d.). Teaching strategies to help students stay focused. Retrieved 2017, from http://www.teachhub.com/teaching-strategies-help-students-stay-focused

Reeves, D. (2015, July 10). 7 ways to increase a student’s attention span. Retrieved 2017, from  https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/7-ways-increase-students-attention-span

Schwartz, K. (2013, December 5). Age of distraction: Why it’s crucial for students to learn to focus. Retrieved 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/12/05/age-of-distraction-why-its-crucial-for-students-to-learn-to-focus/

Umstatter, K. (2014, January 3). Teaching students to stay focused. Retrieved 2017, from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/teaching-students

How Do I Focus?

Written by Katelynn Brown

Focus, it’s a concept that we all think that we are familiar with. When asked to define what focus is, many people would say that focus is to pay attention to something in particular. Though this is true, focus is much more than that. As individual, when we say we think we are using focus, we are actually demonstrating selective attention. Selective attention is when we consciously focus on something by skillfully ignoring distracting stimuli. Through the use of selective attention, we are able to effectively ignore different types of distraction. Research has determined that attention is the first step in the learning process. The ability of students to focus and orient attention impacts what is information is gained and retained to memory. Research has also found that the ability to students to ignore distractions and focus on learning has strong associations to academic performance. As educators, it is important that we help students to think about focusing to encourage selective attention and limit distractions in the classroom.


Can I Direct My Focus?

Take a second and look at your surroundings, notice all of the possible distractions that are around you. Have they affected your ability to pay attention and stay focused? Everyday students are constantly surrounded by multiple forms of distractions that challenge their ability to focus and to learn. Student’s ability to focus is constantly being challenged and tested. As students find themselves surrounded by conversation, technology, and various other distractions, students are challenged to focus and successfully ignore all other distractions that are present. For many, this concept is easier said than done. For students it can be difficult to simply focus on one activity rather than attempting to multitask. It is important that as educators, we are able to help direct student thinking and help students demonstrate selective attention in order to ignore all of the distractions that are present. By helping students to utilize selective attention, educators can better gear students to learn, gain information, and retain this information to memory. Educators can demonstrate for students different methods to improve focus and attention in the classroom. The next step, is to determine how educators can help students to increase the use of selective attention in the classroom.

Think About How You Focus:

While in the classroom, educators want students to be hard at work, engaged in the lesson, and focused on the material that is being presented. During class instruction, educators might find that students are distracted or focused on something either than the instruction. These distractions can come in multiple forms in the classroom. Educators can try to limit this distraction by explicitly instruction students on how to regulate attention. Educators can provide students with cognitive strategies that can guide students to understand how they can consciously direct and maintain their attention on learning tasks. Through regular practices, these cognitive strategies can improve students’ ability to manage their individual learning. By providing students with this instruction, educators can encourage and self-directed learning in the classroom.


1. Shine the Spotlight On Attention

In this activity, educators introduce the subject of attention by asking students to share examples of being extremely focused on an activity that the student was able to block out distractions around them. These examples can include reading a book, watching a movie, practicing an instrument, or practicing a sport. In the way that students provide this attention in the examples that they have given, students can purposefully focus their attention to learning in the classroom. Based on this information, work with students to brainstorm ways that regulating attention can improve learning. For example brainstormed ideas might include:

  • Paying attention to a lesson instead of being distracted by distractions in the hallway or playground.
  • Switching from learning one subject to another or one class to another.
  • Leaving personal disagreements or problems outside of the classroom to limit distractions during instruction.
  • Completing a homework assignment before turning on TV, using cellphone, or playing a video game.
  • Limiting or “turning off” worries about not doing well on an assignment or test in order to stay focused and remember material.
  • Identifying what is most important and focusing solely on what is most important.


2. Focusing attention is a skill that can be improved

At any stage, students can develop their attention for learning through regular practice and training. Educators should provide students with good reasons for training their attention. Educators should remind students that people who can take charge of their attention are better at remembering things and figuring out what new information means and how they can use it. Students who are able to develop this knowledge, are better at metacognition and higher-order thinking processes. In the classroom, educators must guide and encourage students as they work to improve and strengthen their ability to focus attention.

3. Be Responsive and Pace Your Teaching

Within the classroom, the attention span of individual students is going to vary drastically. Educators should vary the instructional times that are provided in the classroom based on the needs of students. Especially when teaching younger students, educators should provide instruction is shorter amounts of time during lessons and learning activities. In the classroom, teachers can utilize the acronym CRAVE as a way to remember five other strategies for keeping students’ attention focused on learning:

  • Build curiosity for learning with “teasers” that get students interested in the lesson. Educators should incorporate anticipatory sets into the classroom that peak student interest and curiosity.
  • Look for ways to make lessons relevant to students’ lives. Educators need to incorporate authentic text, discussion, instruction, and activities into the classroom. By providing meaningful and authentic text and instructions students are better able to become engaged and interested in the material.
  • Ask questions to engage students in learning and inquiry. By asking students questions, educators are ensuring that the students are involved in the lesson and are able to be active learners during instruction.
  • Remember to include variety in the lesson. Educations should use a mix of learning activities. These variety helps to keep students engaged and interested in the material.
  • Evoke emotions. Emotions can be distracting, they can also be used to enhance attention by making a lesson or learning activity more interesting.
  • Educators can incorporate and utilize each of these instructional practiced into the classroom. The integration of these instructional methods can help students to become aware of their own thinking and their ability to focus during instruction. Each of these instructional methods and activities, can help to increase student attention and focus while in the classroom. As students are able to strengthen their attention skills, students will be better able to learn information and to retain the information that they have learned.




Wilson, D. (2015, January 5). Strategies for getting and keeping the brain’s attention.

Retrieved 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/strategies-getting-keeping-


Focus Tips for Students: How to Effectively Ignore Irrelevant Information

Written by Erin Miller

“I need to stop procrastinating and just focus” a sentence said by almost every student when under a time crunch studying for finals, writing a paper, or just doing math homework. The ability to “just focus,” is actually a lot harder than we think, specifically with your cell phone sitting right next to you, the people at the table two feet away, and the music blaring in your headphones. Focus, also known as selective attention, is “the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time. Attention is a limited resource, so selective attention allows us to tune out unimportant details and focus on what really matters” (Cherry, 2017). Research has shown that there are ways to work on this ability and improve our focus. Here are some tips to help your brain focus a little harder on the task at hand:

1.     Put the cell phone away.


First things first, humans are innately bad at multitasking. The basis of focus, or attention, is the ability to ignore distracting stimuli. Choosing to leave your cell phone in the other room while you study, is already a huge step towards improving your ability to focus. Moving your attention away from your school work to answer a text does not seem like a big deal, but is actually a huge detriment to the ability to get your attention back to the work you were doing. According to a study conducted in 2013, “students who were not using their cell phones wrote down 62 percent more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored a full letter grade and a half higher on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their mobile phones” (Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013). Turn your phone off while you study, it is the most effective first step.

2.     Close out tabs you are not using.


Similar to your cell phone buzzing on the table next to you, keeping tabs open on your computer that you are not using, are unnecessary distracters. Whether the tab is your Facebook profile, email inbox, or a full shopping cart on Amazon, keeping the tab open does not help your brain focus on the paper you are trying to write, or the formulas you are trying to memorize. Closing out tabs that you are not presently using, will allow you to get the work done faster, and then you can go back to shopping.

3.     Take breaks, get fresh air.

If you are one of those people who says, “I am going to sit in this chair until I know everything I need to know for this test,” you might actually be hindering your studying ability! Decide before you start studying, when you will take a break, and when you will return to studying. Of course, the studying portion needs to be longer then the break portion, but the breaks are important. In her book, Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload, Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D., says a “quick walk outdoors” is an effective short break. Getting outside, taking some deep breaths, and thinking about anything besides the homework you are doing, can be very effective to sustain your focus (Tartakovsky, 2016).

4.     Create a to-do list.


A lot of the stress we get from school, especially during finals week, comes from having several assignments that are all due on the same day. Before you begin to worry about when you will have time to get everything done, make a list of each of your assignments, when they are due, and plan out when you will complete them. Sometimes, even just writing down the assignments you have can help you relax, and realize that what you have to do is not as much as you think. Multitasking, has “a negative effect because of brain plasticity or “the way the brain changes in response to experience.” When you’re multitasking, “Your brain is changing itself to favor divided attention and fragmented thought, rather than concentration that resists distraction and rebounds from interruption” (Tartakovsky, 2016). Once you plan out when you will complete each task, you will not have to worry about all the other responsibilities, and can focus on them, one at a time.


Kendra Cherry | Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD. “What Is Selective Attention?” Verywell, www.verywell.com/what-is-selective-attention-2795022.

Kuznekoff, J., & Titsworth, S. (2013). The Impact of Mobile Phone Usage on Student Learning. Communication Education, 62(3). pp. 233-252.

Tartakovsky, Margarita. “12 Foolproof Tips for Finding Focus.” Psych Central, 17 July 2016, psychcentral.com/lib/12-foolproof-tips-for-finding-focus/.



Where is your focus?

Written by Abigail Koetting


Cell phones often pose as distractions to our every day lives, especially when we are trying to focus on completing a task and a notification goes off to distract us. Cell phone notifications are meant to get our attention, so their tone will break our focus on purpose. Most ringtones have a frequency that is most sensitive to human ears, similar to a horn, fire alert, or bicycle bell- all of which are noises that get our attention quickly because of their acoustic variability (Roer, Bell, & Buchner, 2014). Whether it’s an incoming phone call, Snapchat, or Facebook notification, simply the sound of the tone causes us to attention-switch between our mobile devices and the task at hand.


Advertised frequently are the dangers in using our mobile devices while driving. Driving requires our attention and focus, especially in more dangerous conditions such as snow or fog. However, what about cell phones in the classroom? How do ringing phones affect our focus and short-term memory? Roer, Bell and Buchner (2014) studied fifty-one college students to determine how the ringing of a cell phone affects one’s short-term memory, and if others’ cell phone ringtones affect an individual more than their own cell phone ringing. Part one deals with determining if the cell phone tone’s interference with short-term memory lessens with more occurrences. Part two then deals with determining which ringtones are more disruptive, ours or another person’s?

In this study for each trial, eight digits were showed consecutively and randomly on a computer screen to participants for them to remember. Auditory distractors (a participant’s own ringtone or one from a partner, ringing along with office noise such as talking, footsteps, or typing noises) were played over headphones while the participant was remembering the list of numbers.

Each participant completed two different blocks of trials. The first block, the training block, had eight quiet trials and eight irrelevant sound trials. During the irrelevant sound trials, a different set of office noises were played. Then the second block, the experimental block, had eight trails in each of the three auditory conditions. The first auditory condition was quiet with two irrelevant sound conditions, the second auditory condition was the partner’s ringtone, and the third auditory condition was the participant’s own ringtone.

Experimenters noted the current ringtones of the participants’ phones. Two participants were paired together to be each other’s partner. Participants were not matched with each other if they had identical ringtones, so that the acoustic differences could be accounted for when each other’s ringtones played.

Since this test was looking at short-term memory, the recall test was given right after the list of numbers was shown. A succession of eight question marks were displayed on the computer screen, and participants had to use the keyboard to enter the numbers in the same order they saw them in before; there was an option for ‘I don’t know’. When scoring, the participant only got the answer correct if they typed the same number in the same exact serial position from the sequence.

Results showed that the participant’s own ringtone was just as disruptive as the partner’s ringtone, both affecting serial recall quite drastically. Additionally, participants were more likely to become accustomed to less regular sounds such as office noise and talking rather than more regular sounds. According to Roer, Bell and Buchner (2014), more regular sounds, like a cell phone ringing, may be due to non-attentional processes. On the contrary, irregular sounds cause attentional capture. As the individual is subjected to these irregular sounds more frequently, the attentional capture weakens over time. This is why the office noise and talking could be tuned out more easily, and the cell phone ringing could not. The office noise and talking were irregular noises, causing the attentional capture, which weakens with more exposure. The cell phone ringing though, always disrupts ongoing activities because of their ability to capture individuals’ attention and grasp their focus.

In conclusion, it is evident that cell phones take our focus away from the task at hand as soon as a notification is heard. We do not become accustomed to these alerts the more we are exposed to them, as we might with typical office noise in the background each day. Our cell phones are just as attention grabbing as someone else’s, so it is important to keep your cell phone on silent when performing tasks that require high attention and focus.


Roer JP, Bell R, & Buchner A (2014) Please silence your cell phone: Your ringtone captures

other people’s attention. Noise & Health, 16(68):34-39.


Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑