At various times in our lives we all feel as if we are going through what scientists call the “absent-minded professor syndrome.” Our brains get lost when we get engrossed in what we are doing and we forget little things. It doesn’t make us crazy, or mean our memory is going. Even memory experts have episodes of memory lapse, and it’s nothing to worry about.

I remember one time that I was so involved in trying to remember a long list of numbers that I put my t-shirt on backwards and went around the majority of the day with the tags sticking out. It was embarrassing, but not the end of the world.

We call a person an “absent-minded professor” when we see them as gifted IQ-wise, but are not street smart. They forget simple everyday things, like eating and taking a shower, and often are not adept at social skills. Simply because a person is smart in certain areas does not mean they have great memories, or are able to focus on more than one thing at a time.

Some experts relate the “absent-minded professor” syndrome to what they call “hyperfocussing,” evident in adults with ADD or ADHD. This is where someone is so focused that they are able to tune out the world around them. Other scientists say the absent-minded symptoms are more related to a higher functioning form of Autism, called Asperger’s Syndrome.

“There may be advantages to having a lot of seemingly irrelevant information coming to mind,” Vogel, points out. “Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people.”

Friends of many great thinkers and scientists have often said their friends were extremely absent-minded at times (Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, to name two). One story of such a person involves the philosopher Thales, who reportedly walked around at night with his eyes focused up at the heavens, and neglecting to look down fell into a manhole.

Memory is improvable, even in those who are “eccentric.” “It appears that these functions (hyperfocussing) can be improved through training, at least during childhood,” Vogel says. “Interestingly, there has been some recent evidence that similar improvements can also be seen in adults who have been trained on certain video games.”

A new study out of the University of Oregon, detailed in the journal Nature (Nov. 2005), found that our brains often get so full of information, or become so focused on one thing, that the filtration system within it is not able to get all the other distractions our of the way. Our memory capacity is not dependent on how much is put into it, as was normally thought. There is no limit to our memory capacity, at least that has been found yet. It is the distractions around us that block our ability to memorize names, or remember where we put our car keys. This could be the reason why some people may be dumber than a box-of-rocks, but have great memories – while others with IQ’s that are off the charts have horrible ones.

In the study, researchers measured brainwaves of volunteers as they flashed colored rectangles across a computer screen. Subjects were asked to focus on two red rectangles and ignore the two blue ones that were there. One group, already known to have excellent memories, ignored the blue rectangles. The other group, without exception, kept ALL the figures in their minds.

“People differed systematically, and dramatically, in their ability to keep irrelevant items out of awareness,” said Edward Vogel, lead researcher.  He likened our ability to focus as similar to having a “thought bouncer” in the brain performing “crowd control.”

This is Ron White, as a memory trainer I can attest to the fact that memory training can help those who seem to be scatter-brained, or suffering from “absent-minded professor” syndrome.




Wikipedia – Absent-Minded professor:

Yahoo Answers – Absent Minded Professor Syndrome???

Autistic Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet – Did Einstein and Newton Have Asperger’s?

Live Science – Scatterbrained? You Need A Thought Bouncer: