Know what is the In thing now

Why ‘Attention span’ is gaining attention? Ways to improve yours!

How to improve attention span

Everyone is showing heightened concern about concentration in recent times. Margaret Sibley, a professor specializing in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, has a focus on working with adolescents and adults grappling with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, a noticeable shift has occurred: Sibley and her colleagues are now being “inundated” with individuals who suspect they have ADHD, even when they don’t.

Rising ADHD Diagnoses, Social Media, and the Shrinking Attention Span 

Such worries aren’t entirely unfounded. ADHD diagnoses are escalating in the U.S., and the impact of TikTok and other social media platforms is further fueling self-perceived attention issues. A shortage of ADHD medications is a consequence of the surging demand. Even beyond medical consultations, there’s a pervasive sentiment—likely exacerbated by consistent reports of shrinking attention spans—that concentration is dwindling. A recent U.K. survey disclosed that nearly half of adults believe their attention spans are contracting, with teachers noting a similar trend among children.

Adam Brown, the co-director of the Center for Attention, Learning, and Memory at St. Bonaventure University in New York, asserts that genuine concern is warranted. According to him, inattention has surged to “epidemic” proportions. However, amidst this concern, there’s a glimmer of hope: Brown posits that we have the capacity to reverse this epidemic.

A modern outlook on an age-old challenge

The propensity for distraction is far from a new phenomenon. The ebb and flow of focus hinges on numerous variables, spanning from sleep quality to personal interest in the task at hand. However, the modern age’s amalgam of anxieties adds a potent dimension to this challenge, according to Sibley.

Theoretically, most individuals without chronic attention impairments could maintain relatively stable focus in a serene, solitary setting. Yet, this focus would likely deteriorate if the same task was undertaken in a bustling room with conversations and music. Modern life, Sibley contends, is akin to dwelling in a perpetually cluttered space, inundated by distractions—a result of the dual pressures of work and home life, compounded by societal stressors such as the pandemic, and the omnipresent allure of phones, social media, and the internet.

How Screens Impact Our Attention

Amidst these distractions, screens pose a particularly complex challenge. With their incessant stream of notifications and information, screens present a deliberate minefield of distraction. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity,” underscores that the internet was crafted to exploit human thought patterns. The allure of the internet’s design is unsurprising, given its capacity to captivate human attention. Mark underscores, “It’s not just the fact that there’s algorithms catching our attention… We have this sense that we have to respond, we have to check.”

The human brain naturally seeks novelty, excitement, and social connection, and technological devices cater to these desires. Each notification that flashes across a screen releases a jolt of dopamine, a reward mechanism that fuels repetitive interaction. Succumbing to the allure of checking one’s phone entails a shift in cognitive gears, necessitating disengagement from the prior task and engagement with a new one. This process not only momentarily hampers the quality and speed of the task at hand, as per research, but it also ingrains a habit of craving diversions, resulting in a wandering mind. Consequently, mindless phone-checking becomes a reflex even in the midst of seemingly absorbing activities, like watching a favorite TV show.

Mark’s research indicates that yielding to digital temptations has intensified over time. A study conducted in the early 2000s involved tracking individuals while they interacted with electronic devices, recording each instance their focus shifted to a new element—an occurrence that transpired every 2.5 minutes, on average. Recent iterations of this experiment witnessed a dramatic reduction in attention span, with the average attention span shrinking to a mere 47 seconds.

Potential impermanence of the problem

The objective measurement of attention span and its potential alterations over time presents a challenge. Even the diagnostic criteria for ADHD—an ailment characterized by persistent attention deficits that impair daily functioning—rest on subjective evaluation. Amid those who don’t meet this threshold, understanding the dynamics becomes even murkier.

A 2016 journal article questioned prevalent assumptions about attention, such as the belief that students can only concentrate on a lecture for 10 to 15 minutes. Upon reviewing the literature, the author, Neil Bradbury, a professor at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Illinois, encountered scarce studies that objectively established finite attention spans. Many studies employ behaviors like note-taking or fidgeting as proxies for attention, yet these behaviors don’t precisely mirror focus.

Bradbury notes that students’ capacity to concentrate seems contingent on the material’s appeal and presentation, making the measurement of inherent attention spans both challenging and somewhat inconsequential. Moreover, Sibley highlights the profound influence of the environment on attention, indicating that it can be optimized for improved focus. “People should feel reassured that if they did assess their life and try to make modifications…there’s a good chance they would feel better,” she states.

Viable solutions

For individuals with persistent attention challenges, seeking the guidance of mental health professionals or opting for medication might be necessary. Yet, individuals facing sporadic concentration issues can take matters into their own hands. Brown contends that a particular adjustment is paramount: “Remove the device.” During moments demanding focus, Brown advises relocating the device to a different space. Mere placement of the phone face down is often insufficient, as research suggests that the phone’s mere presence in one’s field of vision can disrupt focus, and even a solitary notification can sabotage concentration.

For tasks demanding significant concentration, Brown suggests stashing the phone in another room. Moreover, it’s essential to develop the ability to coexist with screens without succumbing to their distractions. This involves cultivating a habit of not reflexively glancing at the screen—a process akin to muscle memory. As Brown explains, just as the urge to repeatedly check the phone becomes ingrained, so can the habit of abstaining from excessive screen-checking. “When your phone goes off, you want to go look at it,” he acknowledges. “But over the course of weeks and months, if you deliberately ignore it…you will get better at focus.”

Additionally, it’s crucial to assess priorities and channel energy accordingly, rather than diluting one’s limited time and attention across numerous endeavors, Sibley advocates. This might involve relinquishing non-essential commitments to wholeheartedly invest in those that hold genuine significance.

Boosting Focus and Productivity: Simple Strategies Backed by Psychology

Mark concurs that attention is goal-directed and underscores that individuals are better able to remain engaged when consistently reminded of their objectives. A simple approach like writing down a goal on a Post-it note and placing it within sight can yield positive outcomes. Moreover, visualizing the desired short-term outcomes can serve as present-moment motivation. The anticipation of the satisfaction that accompanies completing work at 5 p.m. and subsequently embarking on a walk with friends can fortify determination during the afternoon slump. Mark advocates for ample sleep, regular breaks, and outdoor exposure as additional strategies.

Brown encapsulates the potential for improvement succinctly: “If we know what’s happening, then we can take measures to help our attention and memory for our future lives… It’s not only possible, it’s probable—but it’s effortful.”

You might also be interested in

Get the word out!