Attention spans shrinking, study finds
Goldfish outdo digital-age humans, research suggests
OTTAWA —People now have shorter attention spans than goldfish — and our always-on portable devices may be to blame, a new study suggests.
The study from Microsoft Corp. draws on surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians who played games online in order to determine the impact that pocket-sized devices and the increased availability of digital media and information are having on everyday life.
Researchers also used electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor 112 people.
The study found that, thanks to our desire to always be connected, people can multi-task like never before. But our attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today.
A goldfish is believed to have a nine-second attention span on average, the study says.
“Canadians with more digital lifestyles (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology) struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed,” reads the study.
“We know that consumers’ lives are increasingly digital whether at home or at work, or anywhere in between,” said Alyson Gausby, consumer insights lead with Microsoft Canada.
“We see now that news is reduced to 140 characters, some conversations are condensed to emojis and we wanted to understand how this is affecting the way that Canadians see and interact with the world,” she said. “It’s our new ‘newsfeed reality,’ as I like to put it.”
Among the most concerning findings is our declining ability to sustain focus during repetitive activities: 44 per cent of respondents said they had to concentrate really hard to stay focused on tasks, while 37 per cent said they were unable to make the best use of their time, forcing them to work late evenings and/or weekends.
The study further found evidence to suggest that people are increasingly displaying “addiction-like behaviours” when it comes to their devices: 77 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 reported they reach for their phone or mobile device when they feel bored; 52 per cent check their phone every 30 minutes or less; and 79 per cent reported using their portable devices while watching TV.
Microsoft’s study is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.