Phones buzzing with text messages, Facebook notifications and news alerts continually tempt the world to distraction. Many experts believe that this incessant bombardment, and the need for instant answers, has eroded our ability to focus.
A 2015 study by Microsoft surveyed 2,000 Canadians and used electroencephalograms (EEGs) to watch the brain activity of a further 112 people. Their analysis found that the average human attention span had dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds. Goldfish are thought to possess an impressive nine-second attention span.
This wasn’t just a company chasing a catchy headline. The research in the area is mostly anecdotal, but a number of surveys do back up the idea that attention spans are shrinking. In a 2012 Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,000 teachers in the US and Puerto Rico, 87% reported that their students had short attention spans and were easily distracted. The same year, UK poll from the learning company Pearson reached the same conclusion. Of 400 UK English teachers questioned, and 2,000 parents of preschool and primary-aged children, 7 out of 10 said that children’s attention spans were shorter than they used to be.
Meanwhile in the US, the Centers for Decease Control and Prevention has reported that 11% of school-age children have, at some point, been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Before 1990, the figure was less than 5%.
These studies shine a spotlight on our diminishing attention spans, with modern technology in the crosshairs as the culprit. More research is needed if we’re to be sure of a causal relationship, but experts feel certain they’ll find one. “I am personally convinced that technology has led to a decreased ability to focus and wait, and an increased need for immediate information,” says neuroscientist Prof Russell Poldrack, of Stanford University.
(Summarized from BBC Earth Magazine (Vol.9 Issue 1), page 30 by Jo Carlowe)
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