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Distraction is the diversion of attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction. Distraction is caused by one of the following: lack of ability to pay attention; lack of interest in the object of attention; greater interest in something other than the object of attention; or the great intensity, novelty or attractiveness of something other than the object of attention. Distractions come from both external sources (physical stimuli through the five senses), or internal sources (thought, emotion, fantasies, physical urges). Divided attention, as in multitasking, could also be considered as distraction in situations requiring full attention on a single object (e.g. sports, academic tests, performance).
Distraction is a major cause of procrastination, though it is possible to be diligent and still diverted from what is valuable. According to philosopher Damon Young, distraction is chiefly an inability to identify, attend to or attain what is valuable, even when we are hard-working or content.
In works of fiction, distraction is often used as a source of comedy, whether the amusement comes from the gullibility of those distracted or the strangeness of whatever is utilized to create the distraction.
Distraction as Subconscious Message
Rabbi Allen Lew in his book, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, writes, "The thoughts that carry our attention away [during prayer or mediation] are never insignificant thoughts and they never arise at random. We lose our focus precisely because these thoughts need our attention and we refuse to give it to them. This is why they keep sneaking up on our attention and stealing it away. This is how it is that we come to know ourselves as we settle deeply into the act of prayer [or meditation].
Distraction by media
Distraction in wildlife, warfare, medicine and crime
- Fake targets:
- In open field with mass military strategy, sometimes a contingent of troops distracts the enemy army to expose their flank, or to draw them away from a key point or fortification.
- Flares can divert enemy soldiers' gaze.
- Distraction is useful in the management of pain and anxiety. Dentists, for example may intentionally hum an annoying tune or engage in small talk just to distract a patient's attention away from the dental drill. Doctors may prescribe topical ointments containing capsaicin, which produces a superficial burning sensation that can temporarily distract a patient's attention away from the deeper pain of arthritis or muscle strain.
- Pickpockets and other thieves, especially those working in teams, sometimes apply distraction, such as asking a question, bumping into the victim, or deliberately dirtying the victim's clothing and then "helping" him/her to clean it.
- Some animals like the Automeris moth distract predators with fake eyes on their wings.
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- Distraction: A Philosopher's Guide to Being Free, by Damon Young.
- Coping with distraction
- Dr. Roy Baumeister, a sociologist, once tested subjects' willpower against various distractions and temptations.
- Jackson, Maggie (2008) Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age Review in Metapsychology by Elisabeth Herschbach, Ph.D.