02 July 2018

Is the 8 second attention span true?

Is the 8 second attention span true?

According to a study produced by Microsoft in 2015, people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. Microsoft reached this conclusion after surveying more

 than 2,000 Canadians and monitoring the brain activity of 112 people. In our age of buzzing phones and 140-character news items, they say, the average person's attention span has dropped from an average of 12 seconds in 2000 to the jittery low of eight seconds today. The average goldfish, it's believed, can concentrate for nine, researchers say. "Canadians with more digital lifestyles ... struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed," the study says. More specifically, 44% of survey respondents say they struggle to focus on tasks and 37% say their inability to use time well forces them to work late or on weekends, the National Post reports.

Does the average person really have an 8 second attention span ?

When i first read these articles i couldn’t help but feel skeptical as to whether these finding were factual or fictional. Think about it….Can you pay attention for 2 hours? When? (Obvious answer: Watching a movie.) When can you pay attention for half an hour or more? Often. Examples: Talking to friends, playing games on your phone, reading, etc.

As a neophyte to this topic I decided to search these numbers on Statistic Brain. It appears that they cite a 2008 study by Weinreich, Obendorf, Herder, and Mayer which explores the results of a web browsing study. They also cite information from "National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press”.

The Weinreich, Obendorf, Herder, and Mayer study does not cite the listed statistics. An article in Policy Viz tracked the second source and found no relevant data. So… where do these numbers come from?

The numbers appear to be fiction! That would seem bizarre, except it’s not the first time a series of numbers needed to be debunked (We remember 10% of what we read 20% of what we hear…). That infographic got a lot of attention from news outlets. Time Magazine, USA Today, The New York Times, and Canada’s National Post (and others) all wrote about the 8-second attention span without giving much thought to whether it made sense. And speakers and marketers still cite these fictional numbers to justify your need to buy their help and solutions. What’s even more bizarre is that the Microsoft study wasn’t really about attention span. It was about helping advertisers get eyeballs.

Although I do agree that our attention span has decreased since technology has taken over, but think about it, do 200 people represent the average human population… probably not.

What Is Attention?

Everyone knows that attention is pivotal for learning. We can’t remember or process information that we don’t attend to. Some say attention is the ability to focus on one thing and not become distracted by other things in the environment. But that’s just one a part of attention. For more information about the psychology of attention read http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin11.htm

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