How do people's attention spans differ?

Goldfish already have longer attention spans than humans

A Microsoft study shows that the "digital lifestyle" is affecting attention, but wants to offer optimism for advertising

The brain changes to adapt to the environment. That is now banal. It naturally changes when techniques or media are used frequently. Their operation requires new cognitive skills and new motor skills for interaction, such as moving the eyes across screens or using the fingers on a keyboard or a touchscreen. A study by Microsoft has now attempted to investigate how attention, the scarce and therefore contested resource of the information society, changes as it adapts to new media with its information representations and interactions. Of course, you don't want to do anything bad about digital change; new "cognitive services" would develop for the "digital lifestyle", according to the report. In any case, it is clear that there is an arms race between users and providers that can develop tremendously dynamic potential.

Microsoft makes it clear that different styles of attention are required depending on the occupation. But one is primarily interested in the information or screen consumer. One should actually think that it should also be important for the software company how operating systems and programs can be optimized for different professional groups (bankers, management, accountants, journalists, secretaries, doctors, etc.) and their media use. But one is apparently committed to the consumer of content and thus also to advertising strategies to capture it. Live in a world of permanent distractions: "My phone ... My kids ... My tablet ... My friends ... There's always something competing for my attention these days!"

The preparation of the study is handled differently. For those with little attention to detail, there is a version that stays on the surface, there are a lot of pictures and graphics, there is little text and, above all, hardly any science. The more scientific version gives a more detailed look at the approach and results. Would it be logical that not only different forms of advertising, but also different texts, films, games, etc. should be produced for readers with different levels of attention or deficits? Are we entering a two- or multi-class society in terms of attention capacities?

A distinction is made between three types of attention. Attention is usually understood as concentration, i.e. the ability to stick to something and not be distracted. The longer focus is actually just a mode. Another variant is not to let your attention wander despite distracting stimuli, which is known as selective attention. And a third form of attention is multitasking, i.e. being able to switch back and forth between different tasks quickly and in a highly concentrated manner. In the study this is called "alternating attention".

Regardless of the direction of the study, the results are interesting. For the study, 2,000 Canadian people were interviewed and tested - and in order to keep them engaged, this was done in a gamified manner. For a further 112 Canadians, the attention span was recorded and filmed during various activities with different media using the EEG.

The hypothesis is that selective and alternating attention are most important for the digital lifestyle, they can get "the most" out of digital media. It remains to be seen whether the foundations of the digital lifestyle, the development of new digital technical systems and the writing of complex software can be mastered. In any case, it is believed that advertising should be designed differently for each mode of attention, but it is also acknowledged that people have increasing difficulty concentrating on what impacts school or work performance. For example, 44 percent say they have difficulty contending with tasks, with boys it is two-thirds. Just as many say they are distracted by unconnected thoughts or daydreams.

In any case, the use of digital media continues to increase. On average, according to the study, adults use media more than 11 hours a day; In 2010 it was still 8:48 hours. For 16-24-year-olds there are already 14 hours, there wouldn't be much left of the day because they still have to sleep. Evidently addictive behavior is found, especially among younger people. 77 percent of 18-24 year-olds say they would use their smartphone first when nothing is captivating their attention. Only 10 percent of the over-65s say this. 52 percent of young Canadians check their smartphones at least every 30 minutes, and 73 percent also before going to bed. 79 percent use other media when watching television, and live television is seen less and less. In more than half, however, the addiction also corresponds to the impression that technology can make life worse and that it is important to switch it off from time to time, which hardly anyone does.

76 percent of young Canadians say they can only do their jobs by multitasking. The ability of multitasking, together with information processing and "storage" in memory, is said to have improved when it comes to interactive content, while the attention span has shrunk further, i.e. the window is getting smaller and smaller. A "digital lifestyle" is associated with a decreasing attention span, but you would recognize more quickly what you want or don't want and you need less time for information processing and memory. Allegedly, the average attention span in 2000 was still 12 seconds, now it can be maintained for just another 8 seconds before a change has to occur.

For example, Canadians who live a digital lifestyle are increasingly unable to be primarily in non-digital or non-interactive "environments" where prolonged focused attention is required, even if the ability to focus on the "has remained constant." Important "to be addressed. Nevertheless, the attention span is smaller than that of goldfish, which can last nine seconds. "Canadians," the report said, "are quickly losing interest."

Microsoft is trying to get the most out of the shrinking attention span: "If you don't have to be on anymore, why not move on to the next and exciting thing for another rush of dopamine?" Even the use of several screens, for example a tablet while watching TV, does not have to bother advertisers. The second screen would be used to fill in the moments when people would otherwise have dropped out completely: "They are generally more involved and already attuned to immersive experiences." But multiscreeners are less good at filtering out distractions and are increasingly hungry for new things. That is good for advertising anyway, because it is easier to catch the attention, it is just more difficult to keep it. The higher the media consumption, the more social networks or multiple screens are used and the earlier one has adapted to techniques, the more difficult it is to focus attention on a single task.

One of the main recommendations is to clean advertising of all unnecessary information: "What consumers see at first glance decides what they will do next." You have to trap people in the arms race to capture attention and develop strategies of selection by eliminating all distractions through "clarity" and uniqueness: "If they are overwhelmed by the input or lack motivation, him to process, your brain stops absorbing it, "the authors say. However, this strategy, which has been practiced for a long time, accelerates the distraction and the ever shorter attention spans, while the information has to become ever simpler, more pointed and thus more appealing, but also more quickly digestible. Politics must increasingly be designed in such a way that it is economical in terms of attention and complexity-reducing. (Florian Rötzer)

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