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You Can Blame ‘Load Theory’ for Turning Your Brain to Mush

A neuroscientist explains why we’re so easily distracted right now.

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Illustration: Oscar Bolton Green for Bloomberg Businessweek

Have you felt as if lockdown has you in a fog? You’re not alone, says a neuroscientist who studies our ability to concentrate. “There is a barrage of information we’re now facing, and working from home involves additional components,” says Nilli Lavie, professor of psychology and brain sciences at University College London. “It’s difficult for everyone. Our system is not built to handle so much information.”

Lavie says that the concept known as “load theory” explains why we’re feeling out of sorts. We have limited brain capacity, and focusing on one thing requires filtering out other stuff. If our short-term memories—or our visual perceptions—are overloaded with more info than we can handle, we struggle to distinguish what matters, we become forgetful, and we’re easily distracted.