26 May 2015

A goldfish now has a better attention span than you


Well that is what a recent study conducted by Microsoft suggests, and it’s not always been like that:

Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. (Kevin McSpadden, Time Magazine)

Microsoft’s study can be found here. It’s research attempts to discover the impact that digital has had on the three main types of attention: sustained, selective and alternating.

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Four seconds might not seem like much, but when you consider that this regression has happened over a mere 15 year stretch, it’s a startling development. It’s enabled by the human brain’s state of constant adaption to our lived environment known as neuroplasticity. Of course there are variations to this adjustment. The environment we live in hugely determines this degree of change. It is strongly correlated to those people regularly using multiple digital devices such as computers, tablets and smart phones.

If you are reading this, you are probably one of them…And if you make it to the end of this SHORT post, then you’ve done well to fight off the other competing stimuli on your screen(s).

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The study’s researchers suggest that because people are on their screens more it offers advertisers more spaces and more time to deliver content to their desired audience.

But it’s not without a cost:

‘Multi-screening trains consumers to be less effective at filtering out distractions – they are increasingly hungry for something new. This means more opportunities to hijack attention but also that brands need to work harder to maintain it.’ (Alyson Gausby, Microsoft)

You’re scrolling through a blog on your PC..a video pops up, you click play, it’s interesting…But so is the instagram feed on your phone, a snapchat pings up and three emails, might as well check them too…Suddenly the video’s a distant memory, did it even leave an impression? 

For the business of making viral videos it’s a constant battle to get your content heard above the myriad distractions in people’s lives. Multi screeners are an audience whose ‘selective’ attentions (the ability to maintain focus in the face of distracting or competitive stimulus) are generally weak, but these people are often the very people that the video will reach…Generation C.

According to the study, people crave instant gratification rather than focusing on more protracted content. It’s the formula that made the 6 second videos hosted on Vine so popular.

But what happens when you need to get across more content than a mere handful of seconds afford?

It creates the president to get even more creative. Don’t Panic’s own Most Shocking Second a Day  video for save the children was a massive viral success having accumulated over 47 million views as well as receiving a nomination as one of the top 20 Youtube ads of the platform’s 10 year history. It was a gripping film for many different reasons.The film’s jump cut style and second person address aesthetics amongst other things certainly helped retain audience attention.


There’s no clear formula for success, but Microsoft’s report provides an interesting read for anyone thinking about getting their message across in the hear and now.