Exit the Cognitive Tunnel

“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.” -Simon Sinek

 

TASK AT HAND: This week I’m thinking about the pitfall of cognitive tunneling. Cognitive tunneling, also known as cognitive capture, is an inattentional blindness phenomenon where one becomes hyper-focused on some variable other than the present environment. When this occurs, as the old axiom states, you “can’t see the forest for the trees”; or in other words, you become obsessed in some sentence that you lose perspective of the story.

“Cognitive tunneling is an inattentional blindness phenomenon where one can’t see the forest for the trees.”

When cognitive tunneling occurs, the individual may become lost in internal thought or instrumentation and lose focus on the present action or environment. An example would be a pilot focused on an altimeter rather than the runway ahead. More commonly, we tend to become entrenched in inner negative thought rather than executing effective strategies for the conflicts we face in our lives.

Inattentional blindness is primarily caused by our unconscious minds, particularly when we are overwhelmed with information or options, fatigued, inebriated or panicked (Caroline Beaton, Millennial Cognitive Tunnel Syndrome: Why We Miss The Solutions To Our Career Crises, Forbes July 2016). Realizing that our unconscious minds aren’t always the best at determining what’s important, cognitive tunneling helps explains why we tend to react to failures in counterproductive ways. Instead of remaining focused on the conflict, we lose awareness and move farther away from resolving the issue.

As mentioned above, under stress, this cognitive capture is exacerbated into the error of tunnel vision where the range of cue utilization is reduced (Dirkin GR, Cognitive tunneling: use of visual information under stress, Percept Mot Skills 1983;56(1):191-8). Simply put, tunnel vision limits our ability to process peripheral information because we are over-committed to some central issue.

“Under stress, this cognitive capture is exacerbated into the error of tunnel vision.”

Why is this important?

The crux here is awareness! You are at your best with maximal awareness for the task at hand, but also by being cognizant of the variables that influence it. Awareness is akin to context and, minimizing cognitive tunneling, aids you in the processing of relevant information. One step further, improved contextual awareness allows you to filter out the relevant from the irrelevant which minimizes your chances of becoming trapped by unimportant details.

“Awareness is akin to context and, minimizing cognitive tunneling, aids you in the processing of relevant information.”

 

MEDICINE & MACULA: Thanks again for all the interest in my new book, Decision Diagnosis: Seven Antidotes to Decision Procrastination, and for making it an Amazon best seller in multiple categories and countries!

Both paperback and Kindle versions are now available here.

GRATIS: “Stress makes us prone to tunnel vision, less likely to take in the information we need. Anxiety makes us more risk-averse than we would be regularly and more deferential.” -Noreena Hertz

 

My best to you,

David Almeida

david@davidalmeidamd.com

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