The average attention space was 8 seconds in 2013 (down from 12 seconds in 2012), according to studies. A goldfish has a 9-second attention span. Technology is changing the way that attention spans work, this is something that we’ve known for ages. You’ll see it happening in public, with people glued to a mobile device and updating social networks, browsing the web and generally distracting themselves from the world around them.
Microsoft’s advertising department in Canada (yes, Redmond, we’re onto your ad tactics) has conducted a study to see how human attention spans can be leveraged into making them more receptive to advertising. 8 seconds isn’t a whole lot to work with, after all, but the study also gives the average person some insight into how the human brain is changing in response to technology as a whole.
Their finding of the Canadians observed for the study, who participated while EEG scans were taking place, was that tech users are definitely becoming worse at sustained attention – the sort of thing you do when reading a book or watching a movie. There is some good news though. Social media users and tech early adopters tend to “…front load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention. They’re better at identifying what they want/don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory”
Selective attention, which the study defines as the ability to filter distractions, isn’t impacted by tech all that much. That depends on the person but those who tend to use multiple devices with greater frequency are more easily distracted. If you’re more likely to ignore your phone and/or Facebook, you’re more likely to concentrate on what you’re doing by choice. It’s a conscious effort, it seems.
And then there’s what the study calls alternating attention. Think of this as switching between tasks or changing gears with your activities without a break. You could be working on a report before posting about pandas on Twitter and then jump straight into a conversation about the Nepal earthquakes without breaking stride. The good news is that digital life is making multi-tasking easier for some, though there’s a warning here. Social media use, in high-enough amounts, drops attention spans and the ability to multitask dramatically. There’s a fall-over point, where users can become deluged by too much simultaneous info but our ability to process multiple streams is improving.
If you want to see what Microsoft intends to do with these observations, from an advertising perspective, you’ll find their report in the link below. Otherwise, now you’re armed with the changes your brain is undergoing. Use this knowledge wisely. Provided you read all of this, that is.