This Personality Trait Measures How Easily Distracted You Are

Photographed by David Cortes.
If you have a hard time getting through pretty much anything without flipping through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter again (just for good measure), you're not alone. And now, new research suggests that our (in)ability to focus may actually be its own personality trait.

For the study, published in Psychological Science earlier this week, the researchers performed two experiments. In the first one, they asked 93 participants who had not been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) how many symptoms of ADHD they'd had in childhood. This included behaviors like fidgeting, having difficulty paying attention, and not listening when spoken to. Participants also took part in a task that measured their ability to quickly pick out a specific letter, even when they were distracted by cartoons on the screen.

In the second experiment, 101 participants were given the same ADHD-symptom survey and a similar attention task. This time, though, they had to quickly determine whether the name they'd seen was that of a Disney character (e.g. "Mickey") or a superhero (e.g. "Wolverine"). And the same cartoons popped up on the screen to distract the participants.

In both experiments, participants varied in how well they could ignore the distractions during these tasks. This suggests that our ability to pay attention exists on a spectrum, rather than as a skill you either do or don't have. And, as we might expect, those who reported having more symptoms of ADHD when they were younger tended to have a harder time completing the tasks without getting distracted.

"This suggests that distractibility is a trait that is present already in childhood and predisposes people to attention lapses during adulthood, as well," said Nilli Lavie, PhD, one of the study's authors, in a press release. So, whether you made it all the way through this article or decided to catch up on Instagram in the middle, that's just part of what makes you you.

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