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The Science behind Attention Span

WRITTEN BY SARAH BADSHAH

Hyderabad, India


Attention span refers to the amount of time a person spends concentrating on one activity before becoming distracted. Distractions usually occur through the uncontrollable transfer of attention to another activity or a sensation. This commonly used phrase holds massive meaning in science and remains the topic of research for many psychologists today.

Contrary to the popular belief that a human’s attention span can last for hours before they get distracted from their work, it is shocking that as of today, a human’s attention span has been found to be less than 10 seconds. Eight seconds, to be more precise! Recent studies have conveyed that our attention span has decreased considerably over the period of the last 21 years, being 12 seconds in 2000 ( a whole four seconds of change ). Interestingly, or rather horrifyingly, a human’s attention span is now proven to be less than that of a goldfish! A goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds, a second more than that of humans today.


Moreover, studies are also concluding that humans are getting more forgetful. 25% of teenagers today tend to forget basic and major details about their family or close friends, 39% of Americans have lost an everyday item in the past week, and shockingly, 7% of people even forget their birthday from time to time! Needless to say, our species is very easily distracted. An average cell phone user is said to check or switch on their phones 1500 times a week and an office worker checks his email inbox on average 30 times every hour. The rapidly progressing digitized and online age of humans is rumored to be the culprit behind the constant distractions and reduction of our attention span.


The “10-second attention span” of a human is obviously a very precise scientific value, but if minor distractions are discounted, a 16-year-old’s attention span lasts about 38 to 42 minutes on, for example, studying chapters for a test. On the other hand, a two-year-old’s attention span lasts only about four to six minutes. When shown the accurate values, it’s easy to determine the obvious trend in the increasing attention span as you grow older. At six years, it is 12 to 18 minutes, and at 12 years, 24 to 36 minutes — attention span rising at a steady pace with age.


Fortunately for us humans, there are scientifically proven ways to increase your attention span, and some of them are very simple. Dehydration can be a major cause of your decreased attention span, which includes mild dehydration you don’t even notice. Even staying dehydrated for just two hours can impair one’s concentration. Constant water intake can be more beneficial than you know! Both exercise and meditation are said to have enormous benefits and consequently heighted focus as well as aid to sustained attention.

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