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Humans Now Have A Shorter Attention Span Than A Goldfish

Updated on September 1, 2015

Microsoft's Study

Canadian researchers surveyed and questioned 2000 people, and performed EEGs (to study brain activity) on 112 participants. The study's results showed a drastic decrease in our attention span.

The Goldfish Is More Attentive Than You

At the beginning of the millennium, humans had an average attention span of 12 seconds, however in recent years, this number has dropped to 8 seconds in 2013. The average attention span for a goldfish is 9 seconds. Yes, that's right, the goldfish can pay attention longer than you, but only by 1 second, so don't feel too bad about yourself.

Now, there is a reason for this drop in our attention span, according to a new study by Microsoft and their researchers, the human attention span dropped most likely due to our modern day gadgetry. More specifically, our cell phones. We live in a world where news and media flood our inboxes and browsers, it is believed that the human brain has adapted to the constant flood of information, thus resulting in our tiny attention span. Makes sense, doesn't it? How else would we keep up with the constant bombardment of information if we can't quickly flip our attention elsewhere.

Now while being able to divert our attention to other subjects quickly is good, it doesn't mean that there aren't negative side effects of this. Phone-addicts especially have trouble ignoring stimuli that are irrelevant, and there is a decrease in how well we can focus on a single task.


The Selective Attention Test

Before you continue, watch this video first to test how well you can pay attention.

Note: I'm not using the original test video, this one is a replica, but it's basically the same effect with better video quality and it is slightly harder than the original too.

Did you watch it? Good. How many passes were there between the white team? I certainly don't know, I was too busy paying attention to the gorilla... which is probably why I didn't notice the other changes.

Don't worry if the video left you dumbfounded at the end, if you're human, then it is only natural that you did not notice all the other details. The original study was done by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chablis to measure how well we can notice changes in our environment, half of the people that watched the (original) video don't notice the gorilla.

When humans don't actively look for an object, and focus on only one subject, they can become blind to very obvious changes in their surroundings. This effect is called change blindness, this experiment really brings to light of the fact that we are much less aware of the world around us, and when we try and pay too much attention on only one area, we tend to fail at noticing all the other things.

Did you notice the changes?

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Yes, this is an actual missing persons poster.
Yes, this is an actual missing persons poster. | Source

Missing Child

The missing child experiment was conducted to see if missing persons posters really work, however, the experiment also highlighted our inability to notice the obvious in our surroundings.

Note: Multiple versions of this experiment was conducted, so we'll use just one example

50 posters of a missing child was stapled to trees in a park, they then had the boy on the missing child posters sit down on a bench that was in the middle of a pathway in the park, surrounded by the very same posters. The hidden camera records the few individuals that did glance at the photos, those individuals then continued to walk along the very path that passed the boy sitting on the bench. Out of the few that did look at the photos, only a quarter seemed to notice the boy sitting there, and only one or two actually recognized the boy and helped him.

Scary to think that the only thing that can possibly save a child from becoming lost for good is not even paid attention to by the general public. Maybe it's not completely our fault, we can't completely fault ourselves if our brains just simply refuse to acknowledge certain bits of information in front of us. However, it does become a concern when we do notice yet do nothing about the situation when we have the opportunity.

Person Swap Experiment

The third and last experiment is the person swap experiment, there are two variations of this experiment. The first is where a researcher (dressed as a regular man) is in the middle of the street asking people passing by for direction, in the middle of their conversation two men carrying a billboard casually walk in between the conversation. This is where the researcher switches with another person - who is working with the researcher, and although the two people look completely different, none of the people noticed that it was no longer the same person talking to them.

The second variation takes place in an office, same concept, except when the subject is preoccupied with an object, the researchers quickly swaps with another person underneath the desk.

The video below is the first variation, the experiment is conducted by Darren Brown.

Be sure not to confuse inattentional blindness and change blindness together. Change blindness is when you don't notice obvious changes, such as a gorilla suddenly entering your field of vision, while inattentional blindness is the failure to notice changes due to the lack of attention. For example, you are driving and paying attention to the road, but don't notice a car swerve towards you, resulting in a car accident.

Is there an explanation to "change blindness"? Perhaps, Most people like to believe that they can notice everything in their vision every moment. This couldn't be further from the truth, the reality is that there are just too many events going on in our surroundings for our brains to absorb every little detail.


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