Re: New TECHWR-L Poll - ADD

Subject: Re: New TECHWR-L Poll - ADD
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 20:38:48 -0700

Joyce Fetterman wrote:

If you'd like a quick eye-opener, go to>, scroll down
almost to the bottom of the page, and click the Try It Yourself link. It
takes just a few moments, and you _will_ be amazed.

The problem (as I understand it) isn't so much a deficit of attention, it's
an inability to filter out the noise in order to focus on a single task.
Many kids with ADHD can indeed focus on video games for long periods because
the continuous action and bright colors allow the child to follow what's
These sensory issues become very interesting in the context of our nervous system's evolution--hearing, for example, is well-designed as a directional indicator that tells you where the source of the sound is, but it is otherwise a very low bandwidth sense carrying very little information, relative to the other four physical senses. (I am aware of those individuals who are prodigiously endowed with very discriminating hearing abilities, but let's face it, most of us can't wiggle our ears, let alone have perfect pitch or eidetic talents with auditory data, and we cannot imagine being any different).

Not only is hearing a low-bandwidth sense, but the scant auditory information that is gathered and sent to the brain is the most filtered sensory information in our nervous systems. The acoustic nerve and its raw auditory information enter the brain w-a-y down in the primitive regions and only a small portion of the auditory information gathered by your ear(s) ever rises into "consciousness" -- the rest is filtered and scrubbed out as being unimportant noise. The mechanisms that do this filtering and scrubbing seem to be configurable at some levels, but given the everyday ordinariness of commonplace noise/distraction complaints (from neuron-typical as well as ADD people), you would have to say that it could be, in part, a problems with auditory processing--either the filters do not respond appropriately when we try harder to overcome noise distraction, or perhaps some people have them configured in some entirely different way, appropriate for a task where it would be disadvantageous to filter out the sounds of other people. We're so far from knowing all about this that it barely bears any speculation, but it is interesting, if you ask me (and thank you distraction test link, btw. It is revealing and interesting and a topic where accessible material is scarce).
To characterize hearing, bandwidth, and filtering a little bit further, consider the eyes. Of all the senses, the eyes own the most and the fastest neurons. The information provided by the eyes flows along an unfiltered superhighway to the brain--in fact, the eyes develop directly from the brain (embryologically speaking)--they're literally the brain's window on the world. Interestingly, cognitive psych identifies certain configurable scanning abilities of our visual sense that we use to tell the eyes and the brain to be (visually) on the lookout for some shape, pattern, or whatever . Who knows but maybe there is a complementary skill where we can remove (filter out) things that we're not interested in, much as the auditory filters do. If you have sight, and you've had the experience of not being able to see the thing you're looking for, even when it is right there in plain sight, right in front of your eyes, well whaddya know? It seems to me to be a similar problem to the ADD complaint about being unable to listen purposefully in the presence of distracting sounds.
Heaven only knows how these things really work, but these sensory processing artifacts are certainly real phenomena, and a significant incentive (for some of us) to develop skills to compensate for any sort of sensory processing lacunae that we experience as an attentional problem. I think tech writing is the ideal place to concentrate on those skills, because this is where we consider and decide on what information to pass along, whether to cast it as visual aids or linguistic/vocal/textual presentations, etc. We're the information filters and processors, set between the engineers and the consumers, making our best play to ensure that we 1.) know what is needed, and 2.) to get it across to the audience. Who better to do that than someone ADD who has insight and direct experience in solving and adapting to the nature of these problems?
On the multi-tasking note, yesterday on Good Morning America: "Other
research said it takes a person 50 percent longer to complete two tasks done
simultaneously than if they were done separately."

Ratey is an interesting researcher. He's written a popular neuro-anatomy/cognitive psych book titled "A User's Guide to the Brain."


Make April 15th just another day!

Ned Bedinger
Ed Wordsmith Technical Communications


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RE: New TECHWR-L Poll - ADD: From: Joyce Fetterman

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