How Do We Improve Our Attention Span?

It's common knowledge that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. But how can we develop it?

Let’s use this article as a little test to see if you are able to focus long enough to go through it, and absorb. Or does your attention span let you down after you’ve read the first few lines?

According to a study published by one of the top IT groups, which to me sounds ludicrous, humans, now in this digitised age, have an attention span less than goldfish. If one were to believe the study, it’s nine seconds for goldfish and eight seconds for humans.

Psychologists define attention span as referring to an individual’s ability to attend to a stimulus or object over a period of time. This ability is also known as sustained attention or vigilance.


Wandering Mind

It has been studied that it’s not unusual to find our minds wandering when we should be focused on something. 

According to the findings of  a particular research, 47% of our waking hours are spent thinking about something other than what we are doing. Don’t ask me how they arrived at the accurate number of 47%.

On the other hand there are studies that estimate the attention span of healthy teenagers and adults is in the range of five to six hours. 

According to me, no average human can focus five to six hours straight, although we can keep refocusing on the task at hand in a sustained way.

Many psychologists also agree that a grown human’s ability to concentrate is about 10 to 15 minutes at a time. This makes sense but to an extent only. 

Here imagine during a group discussion or a company’s meeting if the person or persons have things to say that engage your attention, obviously it will attract you to listen more and be more involved. 

Now envision a situation where the boss is leading the discussion and drones on monotonously or is being unreasonable or the subject matter lacks substance, quite certainly even though you are pretending to listen closely and nodding, your attention will wander, digitalised age or not.

One study had this to say: “As scientists and physiologists, we are called on to provide evidence for our research and data backing up our assertions. 

Yet when it comes to attention span, an unsubstantiated mantra of 15 min is chanted, with no support other than “That’s what I’ve been told.” 

With the current educational trends of ‘life-long learning’ and ‘evidence-based teaching’, if we insist on dogmatically applying a 10 to 15-minute limit on lectures, we are implying that we really don’t care about evidence. 

Beyond that, it still behooves teachers in physiology classes to do as much as possible to increase student motivation by showing the relevance of material and providing a context for what is taught as well as eagerly displaying a passion for the subject. 


The Science

Physiology is a wonderful science, and students should expect nothing less than having physiology taught with passion and enthusiasm. 

What could be better for the future of the discipline of physiology than to have students wanting to be in class and eager to spend as much time as they possibly can in the subject?”

Good speakers, including leaders, teachers and professors have a way of talking with genuine warmth, empathy and enthusiasm and this holds one’s attention. 

They are able to generate an energy into the discussion and due to this, mutual interaction quickly begins. 

Common, ordinary and unimaginative tasks such as working on an assembly line or cooking do not require constant focus unless it’s hazardous work. So while one is attending to such tasks, attention will surely stray. 

Going off the point for a moment, In the case of cooking, it is said that if done peacefully with the desire to create, despite wandering attention, the overall process is found to be relaxing. It’s similar for many other creative tasks. 

Back to the point, these peace giving activities help increase focus in general.

Yes, there are states such as when we are anxious, angry, sad or similar, our brains get fuzzy and concentration reduces.


Boost Your Attention Span

Activities such as working out, listening to music, reading, meeting interesting people and many others are known to generate dopamine, the chemical messenger and other neuro-modulators that are known to have an incremental effect on concentration. 

So depending on the situation, we focus. Perhaps some settings do demand just that 8 seconds, for example the 280 characters on Twitter. 

The very idea of ‘average’ attention span is entirely meaningless and it is going to vary depending upon the task at hand and the state of mind. 

To borrow words, we think therefore we exist and when something merits attention, it gets our attention, including this article. It’s the stimulus and the objective that count.

Time for another connection – so to speak.

How to Properly Feed our Need for Connection

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