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“Cognitive failure” refers to small dropouts in the brain. A “cognitive failure” is a minor interruption of the brain. Many minor everyday clumsiness are included, such as bumping into something or spilling a drink. That sounds at first completely normal, as is playing with a National Casino bonus. But where does this clumsiness come from?

People who knock over a glass, for example, do not lack the ability to perform the action, the professor says. Instead, they simply have their attention elsewhere at those moments. One can’t be fully attentive all the time. Only when such incidents become so frequent that they become an obstacle in everyday life would I speak of scatterbrainedness?


Minor inattentiveness occurs when people are distracted or under time pressure. In these moments, the brain cannot recall stored information at the right moment but only later – sometimes too late. In these moments, the brain switches back and forth between two states of consciousness: the inner life and the outside world. The brain prefers to focus on the inner life – its default mode. In this, we daydream, rummage through memories, indulge in plans for the future.

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In this state, we are relaxed; we need it for ideas, creativity, self-reflection, and spirituality. The brain is reluctant to leave this dreaming mode. But sometimes, it has to – in order to perceive the outside world. This is necessary at work while reading and listening, or even in traffic. If this doesn’t work, we may miss important information.


Scatterbrained people,, in particular,, can find it difficult to keep their focus in the external mode for long periods of time, the professor explains. Such people include those who are easily worried and have little confidence in their abilities. They also include people who are easily distracted by new impressions or who get excited easily. To his knowledge, these people generally make mistakes more often. Conscientious people, on the other hand, are rarely scatterbrained; they plan tasks through, are strongly focused and complete them.


Genes also play an important role. About 50 percent of scatterbrainedness is due to hereditary factors. This is because the personality traits that promote scatterbrainedness originate in the brain. That, in turn, is genetic. Through training, people with a genetic predisposition to scatterbrainedness can succeed in making significantly fewer mistakes in everyday life. To do this, these people would first have to analyze which mistakes they frequently make, the researcher explains. For example, people who repeatedly forget appointments could use a cell phone calendar and push reminders to counteract this.

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Those who frequently digress in lectures could prepare them in terms of content. This helps them to keep up with the content. The brain is not made for multitasking. Meditations can help people concentrate longer and switch more consciously between the two states of consciousness. It’s perfectly normal to digress at times, too. But even with the best concentration or good training, “it’s perfectly normal to digress sometimes. To concentrate perfectly for 90 minutes at a stretch, you can only manage on drugs – and even that is difficult. It is also advised to take breaks. Do not stress about this too much. It is totally normal to get up and away from your computer once in a while.

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