Goldfish have a better attention span than you, smartphone user

A study from Microsoft claims mobile devices have shortened the average human attention span to just eight...SQUIRREL!

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
3 min read

Of all the movies about species that attempt to overtake humanity -- Planet of the Apes films, the Piranha movies, Night of the Lepus -- none has focused on the goldfish. However, the cute little fishies could be on the path to ruling the world after all, since they apparently are beating us with their superior attention spans.

Goldfish (the actual fish, not the crackers) may have a better attention span than us gadget-toting humans. Walt Disney Pictures

According to a spring 2015 study from Microsoft, the average human attention span has fallen below that of goldfish -- and you can blame it on the gadgets we use to watch YouTube videos and play "Crossy Road." The researchers clocked the average human attention span at just 8 seconds in 2013, falling 4 seconds from the 12-second average in 2000, and putting humans just 1 second below goldfish.

Microsoft's study consisted of two parts. The first involved a survey in which 2,000 Canadians played attention retention games such as responding to patterns to determine their ability to maintain focus while completing repetitive tasks, spotting differences in pictures to gauge their ability to ignore distractions, and classifying letters and numbers (consonant or vowel, odd or even) to measure their ability to apply their cognitive skills to competing tasks.

The second part of the study looked at the attention levels of 112 Canadian participants by using portable machines that measured the electrical activity of the brain as participants interacted with different types of media while attempting other activities.

Microsoft's study found that people (or Canadians at least) are more easily distracted in the presence of devices with screens. "Digital lifestyles affect the ability to remain focused for extended periods of time. 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," the report said.

However, some good news did emerge from the study. Even though our attention spans have been reduced by devices, those very gadgets have also improved our ability to multitask. According to the report, those participants who lived a more digital lifestyle are "better at simultaneously processing information from different sources."

Since the study focused on determining effective marketing strategies, it doesn't list ways Canadians (or others) can improve their ability to concentrate. A study from the University of Granada in 2013 suggested that getting more physical activity could increase the length of a person's attention span. The Association for Psychological Science found in 2010 that people who meditate could improve their ability to concentrate.

If those suggestions don't seem to work, or you're just too lazy to try, there are apps that can cut off access to the usual distractions. Cold Turkey, for example, blocks access to social media and other time-wasting programs like "Solitaire" during those all-important work hours.

What worries me is that there aren't any studies saying what we should do to prevent the inevitable goldfish uprising. Think about it. If you lived in a tank in someone's rec room and ate nothing but flakes your whole life, you'd probably feel like finding a way to outsmart your non-glass-encased overlords and rebel.

(Via Time)