How long will this article hold your attention for? Not long, according to a study by Microsoft Corporation. Human attention span has supposedly dropped from 12 seconds in 2002 to only eight seconds in 2013, which is a second shorter than a goldfish.
It might be time to put down the smartphone as it could be reducing your ability to concentrate on one task, the study suggests. Though, there’s no need to despair as our digital lifestyle may be making us better multitaskers.
After surveying 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18, researchers used electroencephalography (EEG), which records electrical impulses produced by cells, to examine the brain activity of more than 100 participants as they interacted with different types of media. The study split attention into three categories: sustained (attention is maintained over long periods of repetitive activity), selection (attention is maintained despite distractions) and alternating (attention can be shifted between tasks).
Researchers found a decrease in human attention span across all age groups and genders. Average attention span has now dropped to eight seconds, with the goldfish standing in at nine seconds. The study found that 44% of Canadians have to “concentrate hard to stay focused on tasks,” and 45% get “side tracked from what they’re doing by unrelated thoughts or day dreams.” Researchers correlate the inability to focus on a single task to the adoption of technology, the large volume of media consumption, our social media use and multi-screen behavior. The study suggests that long-term focus is being diminished by increased digital consumption.
Researchers also found younger Canadians, aged 18-24, were far more likely to be addicted to their devices, with over 77% of them answering “yes” when asked: “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” In contrast, only 10% of those aged 65 and over answered “yes” to the same question.
The study did, however, find that our ability to multitask has improved—those who use social media heavily had more “intermittent bursts of high attention.” The study says: "They’re better at identifying what they want/don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory."
Researchers from Microsoft suggest that changes in attention span could be due to the brain adapting to evolving technology. Though, Bruce Morton, a researcher with the University of Western Ontario's Brain and Mind Institute, tells The Telegraph: "Just because we may be allocating our attention differently as a function of the technologies we may be using, it doesn't mean that the way our attention actually can function has changed."
Now pat yourself on the back for getting through this article.