When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.
The clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might stand next to you annoyingly repeating, “candy, candy, candy, candy, I want candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy …” Even though you might be able to focus a little, you’re still aware that a screaming toddler is also vying for your attention. The annoyance also wears down your mental resources and you’re more likely to become frustrated.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other physiological measurement tools to map the brain’s responses to organized and disorganized stimuli and to monitor task performance. The conclusions were strong — if you want to focus to the best of your ability and process information as effectively as possible, you need to clear the clutter from your home and work environment. This research shows that you will be less irritable, more productive, distracted less often, and able to process information better with an uncluttered and organized home and office.
Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system. Competitive interactions among stimuli can be counteracted by top-down, goal-directed mechanisms such as attention, and by bottom-up, stimulus-driven mechanisms. Because these two processes cooperate in everyday life to bias processing toward behaviorally relevant or particularly salient stimuli, it has proven difficult to study interactions between top-down and bottom-up mechanisms. Here, we used an experimental paradigm in which we first isolated the effects of a bottom-up influence on neural competition by parametrically varying the degree of perceptual grouping in displays that were not attended. Second, we probed the effects of directed attention on the competitive interactions induced with the parametric design. We found that the amount of attentional modulation varied linearly with the degree of competition left unresolved by bottom-up processes, such that attentional modulation was greatest when neural competition was little influenced by bottom-up mechanisms and smallest when competition was strongly influenced by bottom-up mechanisms. These findings suggest that the strength of attentional modulation in the visual system is constrained by the degree to which competitive interactions have been resolved by bottom-up processes related to the segmentation of scenes into candidate objects.
Source: Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex.