Focused Mode Versus Diffused Mode of Thinking: Why You Need Both

Learning in focused mode is usually what people think of when hearing the word “learning.” It is using our focused attention to think solely about the information we are trying to learn. During focused mode thinking, we are sitting down and deliberately practicing something or trying to solve a problem, without distracting ourselves with anything else.  When you are sitting down and writing a paper, doing a math problem, or practicing a specific dance move, you are in focused mode.

Unlike focused mode, diffused mode doesn’t seem to have one central area in the brain that is mainly responsible—it seems to be a division of labor of multiple areas of the brain.

When you are trying to grasp a new concept, you do not have a preexisting neural patterns to help guide your thoughts—there is no fuzzy underlying pathway to help guide you.  This is when diffused mode becomes handy.  To further explain the difference between focused and diffused, it is useful to use the flashlight analogy used in the book.  When you are in focused mode, you are shining a flashlight that is tightly focused on one small area.  However, when using diffused mode you are casting the flashlight in a broad area, with the light not shining brightly in any one specific area.

here again the Left/right brain shift

...As Iain McGilchrist is trying to show in his book "The Master and His Emissary"

Betty Edwards in her book "Drawing on the Right side of the brain"

Betty Edwards based her instruction on Roger W. Sperry's left brain right brain research for which he received the 1981 Nobel Prize. A familiar concept today, this research identified the differing roles played by the two hemispheres of the human brain. The left hemisphere thinks in a linear fashion; uses numbers, words and other symbols; and is better at tasks involving language, logic and analytical reasoning. The right hemisphere uses visual processes and information all at the same time, and is better at tasks such as recognizing a parent's face.

I like this reply of Betty Edwards in the interview above;....

What Are the Obstacles to Learning to Draw?

Deborah Mends: What are the barriers that people are experiencing when they’re trying to learn how to draw?

Betty Edwards: One obvious barrier is the concept of talent - the notion that learning to draw requires talent. Innate, God-given talent. This has become attached to the ability to draw and therefore interferes with it, whereas the concept of talent really is not so powerful in, for example, reading. At least here in this country we do not really feel it takes innate verbal talent to read! It only requires adequate instruction. And that actually is the very basis of my work: that people really have this ability to learn to draw just as people have the ability to learn to read, and what is required is proper instruction. With that I obviously believe that every person of sound mind can learn to draw. It’s not very hard!

New Directions?

DM: What direction would you like to see Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain instruction heading in?

Betty Edwards: Well, I’ll answer that in relation to my aims. My aim has been very simple: to reinstall the teaching of drawing in the early grades and right through education. Not for drawing, but for brain training. And specifically for training the thought processes and functions of the right hemisphere, which are pretty much ignored in today’s education, and it’s getting worse all the time, as a matter of fact, in this country.

The main aim is to reintroduce drawing and teach it well and through drawing to teach how to access the functions of the right hemisphere. Along with reading-writing-‘rithmetic, we would teach the basic skills not with the aim of training a novelist, for example, but with the aim of improving thinking. That’s what it’s all about.

My thought is,...and I hate to be blunt!...but we need to get our heads out of ours ass's...before it is to Late!

......There is way to much evidence support these concepts,..to be wandering about in a state of apathy towards our futures

Focused and Diffuse Thinking: An Analogy

Cognitive experts have identified that the human brain utilizes two processes when learning new information:  focused and diffuse thinking.  In order to understand the way these processes work, it helps to use an analogy. Picture a pinball machine. In this game, you pull a plunger and release it, sending a ball into the game table to bounce off rubber bumpers and score points. The areas of the game table where the rubber bumpers are close together represent focused thinking.

The ball – our thoughts – bounce around within a limited area very quickly. We think attentively and concentrate only on information that is pertinent to the subject matter at hand. Conversely, in areas of the game table where rubber bumpers are spaced more widely is representative of diffuse thinking, where thoughts are somewhat random and unrestricted.

The Brain Utilizes Both Processes to Learn

It may seem that focused and diffuse ways of thinking are polar opposites of each other. As it turns out, they work in tandem.  Learning is most effectively accomplished when students use both processes within the same study session.

Cognitive scientists suggest that the best way to master new material is to start out dedicating about 20-25 minutes reading and understanding the material in an intensely focused manner without distraction. Then switch to diffuse mode for at least 15 minutes by taking a break and letting the mind wander.

Diffuse thinking tends to encourage the internalization of subject matter by making new and creative connections to previously learned material. Experts agree that repeating this sequence two or three times in one study session effectively solidifies information in the brain.

In order to learn, you might think that you need to spend hours of focused mental energy pouring over study material. However, it turns out that your brain utilizes two types of thinking to most effectively learn. No doubt, blocks of time devoted to intense focus are necessary, but you also need rest periods within the same study session.  It’s the alternation between focused and diffuse mode that enables your brain to make information really stick and quality learning to take place.

My thought is     Doodling   is a good analog of Diffused thinking

Drawing with pencil, pen, or brush on paper isn’t just for artists. For anyone who actively exercises the brain, doodling and drawing are ideal for making ideas tangible. What’s more, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodlers find it easier to recall dull information (even 29 percent more) than non-doodlers, because the latter are more likely to daydream.

Recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design shows that doodling can help people stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information. A blank page also can serve as an extended playing field for the brain, allowing people to revise and improve on creative thoughts and ideas.

Doodles are spontaneous marks that can take many forms, from abstract patterns or designs to images of objects, landscapes, people or faces. Some people doodle by retracing words or letters, but doodling doesn't include note-taking.

      A medical-school student, says she writes down key words during class lectures and later draws "daily doodles" that bring together what she learned. she attends the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says she fills gaps in her understanding while she draws images of gastric secretions, hernias and other subjects of study.

"It's not until I doodle that I think about how everything comes together. I find out what I know and what I don't know," she says. When she stopped doodling for a week, her grades went down.

Diffuse Thought

Diffuse thinking, on the other hand, looks at the big picture. Unlike focused thinking, diffuse thinking is all about distractions. Diffuse thinking happens when you let your mind wander freely, making connections at random. The diffuse mode of thinking does not happen any one area of the brain, but rather all over. In fact, that is the beauty of diffuse thinking: your brain has the opportunity to connect the dots and link neural processes.

Usually, diffuse thinking happens as you do other things. That’s why taking a shower or going for a run to take a break from studying can actually lead to an important breakthrough. While your conscious mind is relaxed, your brain is able to form a creative solution to a problem or finally link ideas that had been eluding you.

“We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve” -Albert Einstein

....personality is right brain!-me

Richard Bach's quote:
“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.”

The following button is a presentation by Barbara Oakley on focused and diffused concept 

The Presentation

Barbara Oakley captivated the packed auditorium with her discussion of the brain and different ways of thinking about thinking. She discussed the two modes of thinking -- focused mode and diffuse mode. She elaborated on an evolutionary conflict in which animals need careful, focused intent (searching for food) but also depend on diffuse intent (looking for danger) to survive.

Focused and diffuse thinking"What did evolution come up with to solve this problem?" We have separate lobes of our brain, with left being more focused, and right showing more visual-spatial diffuse attention. Recent research finds neurological differences between the modes of thinking, and shows evidence that both modes of processing in the brain are very important.

Since it is difficult to think in both modes simultaneously, a person usually works in one mode at a time. Barbara Oakley then used fascinating examples -- Salvador Dali, a famous artist, and Thomas Edison, a famous inventor -- to show how successful people through history have developed creative ways to "switch attention" -- to change from focused to diffuse mode thinking. Both Dali and Edison created situations where they were forced to drop an object when in a deep state of relaxation, causing a sudden switch of attention.