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What Is absent-Mindedness?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Absent-mindedness is a condition in which people demonstrate any or all of a group of traits including limited attentiveness, forgetfulness, excessive focus on one topic to the exclusion of others, and distraction. It is not, strictly speaking, a clinical problem, though it can be symptomatic of many neurological or psychological disorders, including Alzheimer's, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression. One of the most common aspects of absent-mindedness is forgetfulness — absent-minded people often forget where they put certain needed objects, where they were supposed to be at a certain time, and what tasks they were supposed to complete. In many cases, absent-minded people recall all of these things at some point after it is too late to make a difference.

Limited attentiveness is one of the defining traits of absent-mindedness and is one of the main reasons for the name of the condition. To someone talking to a highly inattentive individual, it may actually seem as though the mind is, in fact, "absent." Inattentiveness is, in many cases, caused by hyperfocus, or intensive focus on a single topic of interest to the exclusion of all others. Inattentiveness can also be a characteristic of absent-mindedness if the absent-minded individual is easily distracted. Even without hyperfocus, an absent-minded person may be distracted by environmental factors to a degree that greatly inhibits serious attention to any given subject.

Absent-mindedness can be a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.
Absent-mindedness can be a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.

Forgetfulness is another major aspect of absent-mindedness. Hyperfocus can play a substantial part in this as well, as it may be difficult for a person to remember small details, such as where he put his keys or when he needs to be at work, when he is completely focused on some other concern. Distraction can also contribute to forgetfulness, as small environmental distractions or trifling thoughts can divert one's attention from the concerns he is expected to remember. In some cases, absent-mindedness prevents someone from remembering some detail in the first place. In other cases, it prevents one from recalling something at the correct moment, such as remembering to remove one's keys from the ignition before locking the car.

Distraction can contribute to forgetfulness.
Distraction can contribute to forgetfulness.

Absent-mindedness is a common trait in literature and in other media. The "absent-minded professor," for instance, is a common character archetype. In general, this type of character is brilliant and highly knowledgeable, but is inattentive to a degree that interferes with his functionality in day-to-day life. Hyperfocus is a common trait of the absent-minded professor, whose absent-mindedness is often characterized by obsessive focus on his chosen field of study to the exclusion of most of the other concerns of life. This trait is often represented as being endearing but frustrating to the other characters.

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Discussion Comments


I love absent-minded archetypes in films. I think they're hilarious!


@stoneMason-- Actually, that's true to a certain extent. Dementia is often seen in the elderly and absent-mindedness is a symptom of it. It's partly genetic. The other part depends on things like lifestyle and diet. Eating a balanced and healthy diet with foods rich in omega 3 like salmon and walnuts helps. It also helps to keep the mind active and engaged by doing puzzles or research online. This will delay the aging process that the mind goes through and reduce symptoms of absent-mindedness. So you should not feel that you are doomed to have these problems.


I'm not a doctor or anything but I think that absent-mindedness is a part of aging and is expected to slowly creep up after a certain age.

I used to be really attentive and would remember everything to great detail. But as I get older, I have a harder and harder time remembering things and get distracted quickly when doing tasks. If it weren't for my wife, I would lose my house keys everyday and forget all of my appointments.


Breathing exercises can help you focus on the moment and avoid some of the forgetfulness that goes with an absent mind. Often times absent mindedness is caused by rushing through the moments of life.

When you take the time to experience each moment and each interaction you are less likely to forget. Try focusing on your breathing more throughout the day. Note the movement of your chest and abdomen as you take in and release air. By during this you are "slowing down" the moment and taking notice of what is going on around you.

This is one of the principles of meditation, but that doesn't mean you cannot practice it throughout your day, with your eyes open, figuratively and literally.


I have an aunt who has dealt with bouts of depression for most of her adult life. She says that the worse thing about the disease for her is not the low moods, but rather her inability to remember so many things. I think forgetfulness is one of the symptoms of depression that does not receive enough attention.

The inability to recall names and event and forgetting to do daily chores can cause people to become even more depressed.


As you get older, little things that you forget, such as where you put your keys, what time a meeting is or whether you turned off the stove, scare you more than when you were young.

I have noticed that I can't recall names of people I met 10 minutes earlier. I think I spend half of my day searching for items that I have somehow managed to hide from myself. For me, the biggest worry is that I might be developing dementia, that my forgetfulness might be a symptom of dementia.

My mother had Alzheimer's disease and I think that makes me more aware of my little incidents with memory. The good news is that there are tests that can help determine whether your forgetfulness is caused by disease or just normal occurrences. If you are concerned as I am then you should consult your doctor.

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    • Absent-mindedness can be a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.
      By: rainbow33
      Absent-mindedness can be a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.
    • Distraction can contribute to forgetfulness.
      By: Sandor Kacso
      Distraction can contribute to forgetfulness.
    • Absent-mindedness can be cause by trying to do too many things at once.
      By: WavebreakMediaMicro
      Absent-mindedness can be cause by trying to do too many things at once.
    • The niacin found in peanuts may help improve memory.
      By: lirtlon
      The niacin found in peanuts may help improve memory.
    • Absent-mindedness might be associated with people who frequently travel.
      By: theartofphoto
      Absent-mindedness might be associated with people who frequently travel.
    • Children may become absent-minded if they are told to do something, like homework, when they'd rather play.
      By: SWT
      Children may become absent-minded if they are told to do something, like homework, when they'd rather play.