UM Localization FREE RECALL
A test of the capacity to direct attention                         Research aiding the process of localization
 


USING FREE RECALL TO TEST OUR CAPACITY TO DIRECT ATTENTION:
Helping to manage the mental vitality needed for a civil transition to durable living

Raymond De Young
School of Natural Resources and Environment
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

INTRODUCTION

Free recall is a method of measuring the vitality of attention and memory. In free recall, you are shown a list of items which must then be recalled, You can do the recall in any order.

Typically, through a process call subjective organization, people group similar items together during recall. And, in many cases, a serial position effect is produced, in which people recall more items from the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) of the list.

See link to demonstration below.

THE ROLE OF DIRECTED ATTENTION

The cognitive mechanism at work in this process is called directed attention. This mental resource is used to manage our thoughts by inhibiting one response in order to say or do something else.

The capacity to direct attention is a foundational mental resource that allows us to voluntarily manage the focus of our thoughts. It is useful in our effort to remain effective, productive, clearheaded and helpful. We can use it to inhibit the power of certain features of the immediate physical and social environment, as well as internal distractions, so as to allow consideration of less salient but nonetheless valued information.

Directed attention allows for a variety of prosocial and proenvironmental behaviors. It permits us to pursue important goals despite interesting competition in the immediate setting, to help others despite our own unmet needs, and to resist temptation so that we can remain devoted to a larger concern. In short, the capacity to direct attention is an essential resource for achieving both civility and environmental stewardship.

FATIGUING THE CAPACITY TO DIRECT ATTENTION

Research indicates that directed attention is a scarce and finite mental resource. When placed under continual demand, our ability to direct the focus of our thoughts tires, resulting in a condition called directed attention fatigue (DAF). This condition reduces our overall mental effectiveness and makes consideration of abstract concepts and long-term goals difficult, at best.

SOME CONSEQUENCES OF DIRECTED ATTENTION FATIGUE

DAF causes irritability and impulsivity that results in regrettable behavior, impatience that has us making poor decisions, and distractibility that allows the immediate environment to have a greatly magnified effect on our decisions. Directed attention fatigue makes both pro-environmental and pro-social behavior much less likely.

Simply stated:  Burned out people cannot help heal the planet.

ONGOING RESEARCH

Tests like Free Recall provide insight into the cognitive and behavioral effects that are experienced as a result of DAF. For further discussion of the capacity to direct attention, its fatigue, restoration and management, and for links to related documents, see:

  1. Restoring the capacity to direct attention
  2. De Young, R. (2010). Restoring mental vitality in an endangered world. EcoPsychology, 2, 13-22  < Persistent URL = http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/83484 >
  3. Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182
  4. Kaplan, S. (2001). Meditation, restoration and the management of mental fatigue. Environment and Behavior, 33, 480-506

FREE RECALL DEMONSTRATION

When included in a properly designed experiment, the Free Recall test can be used to measure our capacity to direct attention.

Click the button below to read instructions and begin the Free Recall test demonstration:

 

OTHER TESTS OF DIRECTED ATTENTION

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Hosted and maintained by the Environmental Psychology Lab at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1041.

Part of ongoing research on the process of localization aimed at: (a) helping to plan for, motivate and maintain environmental stewardship and (b) pre-familiarizing ourselves with living well within the limits of local ecosystems. This document is part of The Localization Papers.

EPLab OnLine Measures (EPLab OLM) — Free Recall — Version: 6.4
Document version: October 5, 2013 1:17

 
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