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Distractions Can Help You Make Better Decisions

Good news: Distractions help you think, researchers say. But the type of distraction also has an impact on your performance.

Distractions help you make better decisions, researchers say.

According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, you may be better able to make a complex decision after a period of distraction than a period of conscious focus.

In the study, led by Marlene Abadie of the University of Toulouse, researchers presented participants with a complex problem-solving question. Then the participants were given either a simple matching game to distract them, a complex distraction, or a quiet period in which to focus and reflect on the problem.

Researchers found that participants who came back to the problem after a simple distraction--like number matching--had a 75 percent chance of giving the right answer. Participants who experienced no distractions whatsoever had a 40 percent chance of answering correctly.

However, the unconscious-thought effect (UTE), which allows people to make better decisions after a period of distraction seems only to apply to simple distractions, the researchers say. Participants given a more complex distraction also had a 40 percent chance of answering correctly.

So the next time you're facing a tough decision, perhaps you should eschew the multitasking and opt for a game of Solitaire to clear your head.

Last updated: Jul 1, 2013


Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.

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