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Daily News, Warwick  09 Feb 2019
Weekender - Page 2 - 456 words - ID 1075678409 - Photo: Yes - Type: News Item - Size: 296.00cm2

The last time you stood in a line waiting for your coffee what did you do?

Did you stare off into the distance lost in thought? Did you chat to someone else? Or did you look down at your phone?

Dr Fiona Kerr, founder of the NeuroTech institute, believes only two of these three choices are fantastic for your brain and your body and can have a significant impact on your life.

Dr Kerr has explored these themes over 30 years, gaining qualifications as an engineer, psychologist, anthropologist and is now a specialist in cognitive neuroscience at Adelaide University.

She has now pulled together all these fields of study in a paper supported by the Outdoor Media Association to bring the public one clear message: Look Up.

Dr Kerr said when people are "looking down", focusing on their phones or on the next thing they have to do, this encourages short-term thinking: they are only concentrating on what they need to do right here, right now.

By looking up, this can encourage people to shift their horizons and think about the big questions.

In her paper The Art and Science of Looking Up, Dr Kerr notes that people's attention spans have shortened by about one third over the past 15 years.

"While we think we may be giving our brains a rest when we're scrolling on our devices, this sort of distraction kills abstraction, rather than giving it the type of space that daydreaming does," she says.

"Looking up not only lets our brains improvise and play, but it improves our capacity to maintain a focused state of mind - with less effort - so we get better at thinking." Dr Kerr says daydreaming is actually our natural cognitive state, our "default mode" and when we daydream we can enter a state called "abstraction" which is where we begin to think in a different, more complex way.

"When we are gazing out of that window or at the horizon, we allow our brain to cut loose. But at the same time, our freewheeling brain is working hard, busy making all sorts of abstract connections between 'chunks' of knowledge and data filed away in their own separate compartments, and putting information together in new ways." When we have those aha! moments it may feel like we are acting on intuition but these gut feelings when we just "know" what to do, may actually be sparked by our brain processing large chunks of information together.

Although some people may feel like they are paying attention when they look at their phones, screens actually activate different parts of our brains, increasing inattention and distraction and actively blocking abstraction.

"Contemplation ... may just be the true fountain of youth."

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