Microsoft study claims human attention span now lags behind goldfish

May 15, 2015 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
Common goldfish. Credit: public domain

(Medical Xpress)—Microsoft has conducted a study aimed at learning how modern technology is impacting the attention span of people who use it. They have published their results on their own website, and claim also that they have used Sohlberg and Mateer's model of attention, which allows for providing a timed result. As part of their study, they note that there are three types of human attention: sustained (prolonged focus), selective (maintaining focus despite distractions) and alternating (shifting attention between tasks or stimuli). The study consisted of surveying 200 people and administering EEG scans to 112 volunteers.

The study was conducted in Canada and its main goal was to determine the impact of modern digital technology devices on attention spans as it relates to advertised material presented on various media.

The surveys consisted of asking questions and asking people to play games that have been designed to measure attention span while allowing for metrics to be taken. Respondent surveys that were returned were separated into three categories: high, medium and low attention span. The EEG scans were administered while volunteers watched different types of media and engaged in various activities—both to note when attention wandered from one subject to another.

In analyzing the data obtained, the researchers found that the average attention span for the respondents and volunteers was just eight seconds, down from twelve back in 2000, and one second shorter than the average goldfish. They also found that using digital devices has caused an improvement in multi-tasking skills.

They researchers also found that those volunteers who used their digital devices more than others, tended to have more trouble focusing in situations where it was required to function. They also noted that early adopters or users who have used digital devices quite heavily have learned over time to front-load their attention, allowing large amounts of information to flow in and to be processed, before switching their focus to something else, resulting in an increase in bursts of high attention. The researchers suggest this means they are better at determining what information they want to focus on and which to ignore.

On the other hand, the researchers also found that users that tend to use multiple screens (such as using their phones while watching TV on another screen) tend to have difficulty with filtering information that is coming at them on any of their devices. They suggest that overall our brains are adapting to the new technology as it develops and a shorter attention span may simply be a normal side effect.

Credit: Microsoft

Explore further: Researchers use closed-loop feedback from the brain to improve attention abilities

Related Stories

Researchers use closed-loop feedback from the brain to improve attention abilities

February 10, 2015
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Princeton University has found a way to improve the attention span of volunteers in a study. In their paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the team describes how ...

When attention is a deficit: How the brain switches strategies to find better solutions

March 27, 2015
Sometimes being too focused on a task is not a good thing.

Researchers uncover cellular mechanisms for attention in the brain

July 26, 2013
The ability to pay attention to relevant information while ignoring distractions is a core brain function. Without the ability to focus and filter out "noise," we could not effectively interact with our environment. Despite ...

Distraction, if consistent, does not hinder learning

December 9, 2014
Maybe distraction is not always the enemy of learning. It turns out in surprising Brown University psychology research that inconsistent distraction is the real problem. As long as our attention is as divided when we have ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals stronger people have healthier brains

April 19, 2018
A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that muscular strength, measured by handgrip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are.

Study suggests we can recognize speakers only from how faces move when talking

April 18, 2018
Results of a new study by cognitive psychologist and speech scientist Alexandra Jesse and her linguistics undergraduate student Michael Bartoli at the University of Massachusetts Amherst should help to settle a long-standing ...

How mental health diagnosis should be more collaborative

April 18, 2018
Mental health diagnosis should be a collaborative and useful process, not a meaningless label - according to new research from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and the University of East Anglia.

Does pot really dull a teen's brain?

April 18, 2018
Pot-smoking teens may not be dooming themselves to a destiny of dim-wittedness, a new review suggests.

Pathways in the young brain are associated with susceptibility for mental disorders

April 18, 2018
Adolescence is a period for individual growth and opportunities, but it also coincides with the emergence of many mental disorders. In a study that was recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, Norwegian researchers revealed ...

Gender pay gap—personality affects income

April 18, 2018
Being high in 'neuroticism' and low in 'conscientiousness' can come at a cost in terms of income a new study has found. These effects were particularly strong for women, who benefited more than men for being conscientious ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (4) May 15, 2015
Yeah, .. don't bother to think, look it up on Wiki!
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2015

Yes, this is a real trend. I have seen that children now are so scattered that it is very difficult to teach them anything. Like they cant even focus long enough to listen to an entire sentence. We are so overstimulated these days, with screens everywhere, music, commercials and everything happening so fast. Also there is a devaluing of knowledge, with internet access being so prevalent, people don't respect learning and knowledge as much, they can just look up anything at any time, and it stays up to date. Why learn anything but how to google something, LOL?
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2015
krundloss, all my attending folk were seasoned professionals, mature folk who acted like it. I do not know if I could stand to keep up with the 15-second attention spans of youth. It is hard enough staying interesting for hours at a time with grownups.

I am sure that will prompt a silly response from some folk who have never taught professionals, but are sure they know more than everyone else.
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2015
The true is that the professional world is boring as sh*t. When I was an Admin and I sat in on status meetings and that sort of thing, I just wanted to die of boredom. None of the topics involved me, I was just there, because they wanted me to be there. There's a plague of useless meetings in middle management professions, someone always has a quarter of an idea, and then drags 20 people in to listen to their drivel, and now all of those people have wasted an hour or two out of both their lives, and their normal work load.
not rated yet May 15, 2015
SciTechDude, Dynamism and the presentation of ideas from other perspectives, challenging them is necessary. Especially the dynamism. So I deal in ideas, not "knowledge", challenging them to think about why something happens, not memorizing what happens. It is necessary for understanding and it works.

Learning is personal, so each one has to think you are talking to them mainly. You do not leave anybody out, and make sure everyone is up with rest. At breaks, you do not get one, because you are handling comments and questions.

Always deal with the "why". That way, you do not have to teach as much because they can figure the rest out for themselves - and keep doing so long after the seminar is over.
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2015
@SciTechdude and gkam, in reality this isn't a good comparison.

The subject is about the ability to focus. If a meeting is setup with the right people and still a person can't focus that is a problem. But if the meeting is setup poorly and has the wrong people in the meeting "because they are required", not because they really should be then it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that they don't "focus".

I have been in these meetings and I can tell you it is a bit of both. For instance where the person asking a question has to repeat it because the one he asked was off checking emails, and didn't hear it.

On the other hand gkam you are talking about a class not a corporate meeting. Clearly people should be there to learn, and should be attentive, or not be there.
1 / 5 (2) May 16, 2015
They must have conducted this on Windoze devices. So, no surprise.
not rated yet May 16, 2015
Just look at the folk in other threads who have to cut and paste the words of others, apparently not having the ability to think for themselves.

The ability to have easy and immediate "answers" to queries reduces our ability to think for ourselves, and leaves us to react from emotion.
3 / 5 (2) May 17, 2015
Just one more reason that the "information age economy" is bogus. Maybe a goldfish making policy would be better...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.