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#WFH: Are You Tuning In or Tuning Out?

We learn to distinguish between personally sig-nificant and insignificant information almost from birth. Teachers will say that students are not going to learn if they are not paying attention. Often, paying attention requires active listening. Active listening seems so easy but requires careful focus and mind-fulness. Research suggests that we pick up sounds associated with personal and emotional relevance very quickly. We all have preferential processing of personally significant information. Examples of this kind of information are if someone calls your name, if your device rings, or if you hear your child’s voice.

The brain is built to tune in or tune out very quickly. Most of the time when this is happening you are unware of it. When your device dings, your email pings or your phone rings, it is easy to be distracted, lose focus and not actively listen. We are all human and this is how most humans are hardwired. Your brain has the ability and will change how it will respond based on what has happened in the past. If our meeting or our coworker was boring last time, or we thought the interaction was insignificant, we might just tune out.

Studies conducted using animals suggest simi-lar results. Animals remember behaviorally relevant information and sounds by storing a memory code in the cortex. These are then activated depending on the motivational value of the stimuli. In other words, if it is something the animal considers motivating they are more likely to tune in. The more important the sound, the more specifically tuned the response becomes. We all have these experiences with our own pets and children. When you open the treat cabinet, the dog goes bananas, but when you say clean your room, your kids just don’t hear that. People selectively tune in, or not, often without being aware.

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