One Track Minds

I agree with those who say that men only think of one thing – at least only one thing at a time.

Every week I hear male patients tell me their wives say they don’t listen, especially when they are occupied with reading or watching the news.

Many women, on the other hand, seem to have no trouble doing two or three things at the same time.

Certainly, multitasking has been a necessity throughout history for women, who kept house, raised children, cared for animals and did all kinds of farm chores.

In many early cultures dating back thousands of years, men would go out to catch the tiger or some other dangerous beast. That sort of endeavor was more likely to be successful if the hunter put all other random thoughts and projects out of his mind right then until the tiger was successfully taken care of. 

Today’s men generally operate very much like prehistoric man. If we split wood, we only do that, and if we mow the lawn, we don’t stop in the middle to split some wood or balance our checkbooks, unless we have Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD.

When I grew up, there was only one channel on Swedish TV (I was five when I first saw a TV program). We played games that followed the pace of our minds and bodies, and we played them one at a time.

The generations born after me have been subjected to far more simultaneous sensory inputs, and they have played games that set the pace for the players; computer games often don’t slow down for the player, who needs more time. Children also often play games while watching TV in the background.

I, who no longer have a TV at home, was reminded at the airport recently of the flood of sensory inputs we can subject ourselves to today. The TV monitors had a news anchor occupying most of the screen. To the right was a live feed from the latest disaster scene and along the bottom of the screen was a ticker-type text with completely unrelated headline stories. A young couple was standing near a monitor, busily talking while each was texting on a Blackberry.

Modern society seduces us into trying to do more than one thing at a time. I often wonder what that does to a developing nervous system.

Are some young brains better equipped to select which outside inputs to process and which ones to ignore? Are some just unable to prioritize, and do they therefore rarely find the level of engagement necessary to complete tasks? It is well known that boys with ADHD can hyperfocus and do extremely well in high-risk situations, where dopamine is released within the central nervous system. But are low dopamine levels at the root of this condition?

What about the simultaneous rise in rates of Asperger spectrum disorders? Are they Attention Excess Disorders? Asperger children are in many ways doing the opposite of ADD children; instead of “taking it all in” and doing everything at once, they “tune out” many inputs others think of as important and focus their attention on details others might think of as irrelevant. Instead of always checking how their peers are reacting (Is anybody laughing at me, the Class Clown?), they fail to read the reactions of others, and tend to be socially awkward.

Or is our society less tolerant of these different coping mechanisms to an increasingly unhealthy environment? Is it so, that as our society becomes more intense, more and more people will fall outside the norm for what we think is an acceptable way to deal with the barrage of sensory inputs?

2 Responses to “One Track Minds”

  1. 1 English Pensioner October 25, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I have a two track mind.
    One track concentrates on the task in hand whilst the other track causes appropriate sounds and/or gestures to be made to my wife which signify broad, but not specific, agreement which can be denied later on the grounds of my deafness!

  1. 1 ADHD in France and the USA | A Country Doctor Reads: Trackback on March 24, 2012 at 1:21 am

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