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Microsoft study: People have shorter attention spans than goldfish

Try not to tune out before the end of this sentence: A Microsoft study has found we lose concentration after just eight seconds.

Did you make it through? If so, you’re a rarity and you can continue reading. If not, you’re probably already onto the next thing.

This study comes out of Canada (phew!) where researchers base their findings on two different types of methods. One method was to use a quantitative survey to gauge overall attention, while also paying attention to habits and perceptions. The other method was more physical and involved neurological research to measure attention spikes in the brain.

The goal of the study was to understand the impact technology has on our attention spans.

The first method, using an online survey, involved 2000 participants and consisted of online games where people had to respond to patterns, spot the difference in patterns, and classify numbers and letters.

The second method involving an electroencephalography (EEG, which records electrical activity in the brain) focused on brain activity as participants interacted with different media and went about activities across different environments.

Attention span games

Image via Microsoft

The researchers found that there are four top factors that impact our attention these days (or Canadians’, anyway):

  • Media consumption
  • Social media usage
  • Technology adoption rate
  • Multi-screening behaviour

Using the EEG, researchers found that “higher usage of social media increases short bursts of high attention”.

It was also found that heavier social media users pay more attention in interactive environments, but that their attention scores were lower than lighter users in more passive experiences, such as watching TV.

Overall, the study indicated that digital lifestyles have a negative impact on prolonged focus: “The thrill of finding something new often makes connected consumers jump off one experience into another. The ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released when consumers are doing something they find rewarding.”

So the more digital your lifestyle, the less likely you are to have your attention held for long periods of time – all because you’re waiting for your next hit of dopamine.

Attention spans in Canada

Image via Microsoft

And though the average human attention span in 2013 was just eight seconds (one second less than a goldfish), it’s not all bad. Microsoft points out that we’ve gotten better at multitasking in the digital age, so there’s at least something to feel good about living in a tech-saturated society.

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    Friday 19 June 2015

    Horrifying, but note that this study only went back to 2000 A.D.
    The Kilnethics Institute found that the attention span of an average actual adult (achieved 25 y.o.) of 30 years ago, was not statistically replicable today.

    It appears that, luckily, the computer chip has made nearly all humans redundant in meaningful activity….