The Student Movement


Are Attention Spans Decreasing?

Elizabeth Getahun

Photo by Ryan Lee (Flickr)

Many elements factor into our ability to pay attention to something. We know that sleep, exercise, diet, etc. are important contributors to brain health, and consequently our mind’s ability to focus on something. However, there could be other facets that play a role in today's concern regarding attention spans. With technological advances and an increase in media consumption, especially social media, it seems that concentration has become increasingly difficult and attention spans are shortening. I remember being told in middle school that my attention span was worse than that of a goldfish. According to one study, in the year 2000 people's attention span was around 12 seconds, but in 2013 it was at around 8 seconds. A goldfish has an attention span of about 9 seconds. I thought it had to have been an exaggeration. As an adult with more information to digest as a result of having more access to data, news, research, and other resources than ever before, is it possible that with an abundance of information being transmitted to me daily that my attention span may be decreasing?

According to TIME, the hyperdigitized society we live in today greatly affects the brain. Kevin McSpaden discusses a study from Microsoft Corp. which shows that the drop in attention span from 12 seconds to 8 seconds and attributes this decline to a side effect of the brain's attempt to adapt to the mobile era. The survey in that study also showed that a majority of individuals aged 18 to 24 searched for their phones straight away if they weren’t engaging in another task compared to 10% of individuals over the age of 65. Additionally, a new study in Nature Communications supports the concern that our collective attention span is narrowing over time, claiming that there is a limit in our brains regarding how much attention we have and where we can allocate it. There are different cultural items, trends, and information competing for our attention that are so densely packed that we are unable to allocate a sufficient amount of attention to each item. There are some individuals who may have longer attention spans, but on average this is where we are at.

I do think that over the years my attention span has decreased. As a child with limited access to TV or any electronics, most of my time was spent outside with friends, participating in sports, leisurely reading, or academics. I ate healthy, my sleep wasn’t disrupted due to screen time or other distractions. I was able to focus on things well; I didn’t have a huge problem with it. Eventually, my parents allowed me to get a laptop and cell phone in high school. Even then, I had to give them my electronics by 9pm every night. During this time I had more access to media and the internet but it was still limited. Even with that limited access my attention span began to slow as I had access to all kinds of news, trends, various social media accounts, TV shows, and more. By the time I got to the age where my media minutes were no longer monitored, I realized that while I noticed my attention to things improving when I took breaks, my attention span overall had still become pitiful. I constantly feel the need to have my phone or mindlessly scroll on TikTok even if I’m bored of it. This is when I really understood the connection between the media age and its effects on my brain and how I am able to focus on and process information.

But fear not. There are things we can do to improve our shortening attention span. Researchers have found that brief diversions help to increase concentration and focus, allowing tasks to be completed efficiently without decline of performance. Additionally, according to Healthline, chewing gum, drinking water, meditation, and behavioral therapy are but a few ways to help improve attention spans. Chewing gum helps lower stress and increase alertness. Drinking water is essential because dehydration damages your mind's ability to think and reason. ADHD is an attention disorder and exercise is a huge benefit to those with this problem. Meditation helps you practice redirecting your thoughts and training the mind to concentrate, which has proven to be effective in increasing attention spans. Lastly, Behavioral Therapy can help change unhealthy behaviors that may be contributing to your inability to focus. We are not a lost cause–we can add these various items to our day to help increase our attention spans. On that note, congratulations for focusing long enough to make it through this article.

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.