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Title: Distraction  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Psychological manipulation, Infomania, Victim playing, Media manipulation, Absent-mindedness
Collection: Diversionary Tactics, Human Behavior, Psychological Adjustment
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A schoolgirl appears to be distracted as she sits in class.

Distraction is the divided attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction. Distraction is caused by: the lack of ability to pay attention; lack of interest in 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, and internal sources. It Happens


  • In the workplace 1
  • In fiction 2
  • In religion 3
  • In warfare 4
  • In medicine 5
  • In crime 6
  • In magic 7
  • By media 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

In the workplace

Some office workers use so many computer programs at once that they have to use two screens.

Multitasking could also be considered as distraction in situations requiring full attention on a single object (e.g., sports, academic tests, performance). The issue of distraction in the workplace is studied in interruption science. According to Gloria Mark, a leader in interruption science, the average knowledge worker switches tasks every three minutes, and, once distracted, a worker takes nearly a half-hour to resume the original task.[1]

In fiction

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.

In religion

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 meditation] 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]". 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 warfare

  • 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

In medicine

Clove oil (Syzygium aromaticum) essential oil in glass vial

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 create a diversion from the dental surgery process. Topical ointments containing capsaicin, provide a superficial burning sensation that can momentarily distract a patient's attention away from the more serious pain of arthritis or muscle strain. A similar effect is made by oil of cloves, which produces a burning sensation on the gums, and distracts from toothache.

In crime

Con artists and shoplifters sometimes create a distraction to facilitate their crimes. Armed robbers may create a distraction after their robbery, such as pulling a fire alarm, to create confusion and aid in their getaway. In a more serious case of crime, Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik exploded a car bomb in Oslo city. It was a distraction that directed police resources to Oslo city, allowing him to carry out his machine-gunning spree unopposed on Utøya island.

In magic

Magicians use distraction techniques to draw the audience's attention away from whichever hand is engaged in sleight of hand. Magicians can accomplish this by encouraging the audience to look elsewhere or by having an assistant do or say something to draw the audience's attention away. Sleight of hand is often used in close-up magic, performed with the audience close to the magician, usually within three or four meters, possibly in physical contact. It often makes use of everyday items as props, such as cards and coins. The guiding principle of sleight-of-hand, articulated by legendary close-up magician Dai Vernon, is "be natural". A well-performed sleight looks like an ordinary, natural and completely innocent gesture, change in hand-position or body posture.

It is commonly believed that sleight of hand works because “the hand is quicker than the eye” but this is usually not the case. In addition to manual dexterity, sleight of hand depends on the use of psychology, timing, misdirection, and natural choreography in accomplishing a magical effect. Misdirection is perhaps the most important component of the art of sleight of hand. The magician choreographs his actions so that all spectators are likely to look where he or she wants them to. More importantly, they do not look where the performer does not wish them to look. Two types of misdirection are timing and movement. Timing is simple: by allowing a small amount of time to pass after an action, events are skewed in the viewer's mind. Movement is a little more complicated. A phrase often used is "A larger action covers a smaller action". Care must be taken however to not make the larger action so big that it becomes suspicious.

By media

Propagandising techniques of distraction are used in media manipulation. The idea is encourage the public to focus on a topic or idea that the compliance professional feels is supportive of their cause. By focusing attention, a particular ideology can be made to seem the only reasonable choice.

Distraction is also important in studies of media multitasking. The simultaneous use of multiple media at once. This behavior has emerged as increasingly common, especially among younger media users,[2]


  1. ^ Alboher, Marci (22 June 2008). "Fighting a War Against Distraction".  
  2. ^ Wallis, Claudia (March 19, 2006), "The MultiTasking Generation",  . Wallis describes a survey by Donald F. Roberts and others for the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that multitasking children were able to view media for an average of 8.5 hours inside the 6.5 hours spent interacting with electronic media.

External links

  • Distraction: A Philosopher's Guide to Being Free, by Damon Young.
  • Jackson, Maggie (2008) Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Elisabeth Herschbach, Ph.D.MetapsychologyReview in
  • Half-heard phone conversations reduce cognitive performance
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