The Absent-Minded Professor Syndrome

Most of us have undergone “The Absent-Minded Professor” syndrome at one time or another. I recall one time being so engrossed in what I was working on that I dressed myself with my shirt inside out, and went around all day like that until someone pointed it out. It was embarrassing!   This may be a mild case, but it does point out that even memory experts have an occasional memory slip.

The term ‘absent-minded professor” is often used on people who are exceptionally gifted IQ-wise, but don’t seem to possess the ability to remember everyday things, like being on time or what day of the week it is. Just because a person is smart in some areas does not mean they have a great memory, or can focus on anything but one specialty.

When you forget a face or canabsent minded professor‘t find your car keys, it’s not because your brain is out of storage space. You just aren’t filtering out other thoughts well enough, a new study out of the University of Oregon finds. This goes against the popular idea that the memory capacity is completely dependent on how much information you can squeeze into your brain.   This could be why some people with fantastic memories are dumber than a box-of-rocks, while others with IQ’s that are off the charts have horrible memories.

In the study, researchers measured brainwaves of test subjects as objects of colored rectangles were flashed across a computer screen. In one experiment, the subjects were told to focus on two red rectangles while ignoring the two blue ones. Without exception, one group kept ALL the rectangles in their minds, while another group of individuals —already found to have excellent memories, completely ignored the blue rectangles.

“People differed systematically, and dramatically, in their ability to keep irrelevant items out of awareness,” said Vogel.   He thinks of this ability to focus as similar to having a “thought bouncer” in the brain performing “crowd control.” The results were detailed in the journal Nature (Nov. 2005).

Some experts relate the “absent-minded professor” syndrome to the adult with ADD or ADHD, and their particular version is actually what they call have a strange phenomenon we call hyperfocussing, where someone is so intently focused on what they are doing the world around them disappears, as if they were in a trance. Others scientists say the absent-minded symptoms are more related to a milder form of Autism — Asperger’s Syndrome.

Those suffering from the “affliction” tend to look at the world differently than others. Most of the world is more apt to focus on the details than the big picture, and they usually are more organized and dependable. The majority of the rest of the world (approximately ¼) tends to focus on the big picture (a very small percentage can do both), tends to ignore the details. Although this group is often creative and highly intelligent, they tend to be a bit “scatterbrained.” Most people call them eccentric.

Many great thinkers and scientists were considered by their friends to be extremely absent-minded at times (Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, to name two). One antidote involves the philosopher Thales, who they say walked at night with his eyes focused on the heavens, and not looking down, fell into a manhole.

“There may be advantages to having a lot of seemingly irrelevant information coming to mind,” Vogel points out. “Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people.”

But for those who would like to do better at keeping track of their thoughts, help might be on the way. “It appears that these functions can be improved through training, at least during childhood,” Vogel says. “Interestingly, there has been some recent evidence that similar improvements can also be seen in adults who have been trained on certain video games.”

As a memory trainer I can attest to the fact that memory training can help those who seem to be scatter-brained or suffering from “absent-minded professor” syndrome.

Memory Training


Wikipedia — Absent-Minded professor:

Yahoo Answers — Absent Minded Professor Syndrome???

Autistic Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet — Did Einstein and Newton Have Asperger’s?

Live Science — Scatterbrained? You Need A Thought Bouncer:


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