April 16, 2019 -- Pop art guru Andy Warhol once predicted that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes.He may have been too generous.The vast and growing volume of diversions that pepper our modern world appears to be taking a toll on our attention spans as people hop to the next trending topic faster and faster, European researchers report this week.“We’re confirming something that a lot of people have been feeling, but that we haven’t had any large-scale evidence for,” says Sune Lehmann, PhD, a data scientist at the Technical University of Denmark and a co-author of the study. “A lot of us have had a feeling that things are moving faster.”The findings, published Monday in the research journal Nature Communications, were the result of nearly 2 years of work by Lehmann and colleagues in Germany and Ireland. They mathematically tracked billions of Twitter hashtags, Google queries, Reddit comments, and other markers of online popularity as they rose and fell over various time spans in the last decade and a half.
CONTINUE READING BELOWThey also examined citations of scientific journals, Wikipedia entries, box-office receipts of more than 4,000 movies over 40 years, and key phrases in 100 years of books cached online. And they found the time it took for a topic to peak in popularity and drop off has been getting shorter as more material competes for a limited mental market.
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SLIDESHOWThe study differs from previous research by trying to quantify differences in attention span “on a very large scale,” Lehmann says.“It’s a new take on trying to understand some of the things our technology seems to be doing to us,” he says.For example, in 2013, a popular topic generally stayed in Twitter’s top 50 trending topics for an average of 17.5 hours, the researchers reported. By 2016, that number had dropped to 11.9 hours. At the same time, the number of people following each topic at its peak was roughly the same, Lehmann says.In other words, the same number of people were engaged with the Twitter topic at its peak in both years, but no single topic could keep the masses engaged for as long.
Slideshow: Top Concentration Killers
Culprit: Social Media
Whether you're living with ADHD or just have trouble focusing from time to time, today's world is full of concentration killers. Psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD offers a few tips to manage distractions, starting with social media. It's easy to connect with friends -- and disconnect from work -- many times an hour. Every status update zaps your train of thought, forcing you to backtrack when you resume work.
Social Media Fix
Avoid logging in to social media sites while you're working. If you feel compelled to check in every now and then, do it during breaks, when the steady stream of posts won't interrupt your concentration. If you can't resist logging in more frequently, take your laptop someplace where you won't have Internet access for a few hours.
Culprit: Email Overload
There's something about an email -- it shoots into your inbox and itches to be answered immediately. Although many emails are work-related, they still count as distractions from your current project. You won't make much progress if you constantly stop what you're doing to reply to every message.
Email Overload Fix
Instead of checking email continuously, set aside specific times for that purpose. During the rest of the day, you can actually shut down your email program. This allows you to carve out blocks of time when you can work uninterrupted.
Culprit: Your Cell Phone
Perhaps even more disruptive than the ping of an email is the ringtone on your cell phone. It's a sound few of us can ignore. But taking a call not only costs you the time you spend talking -- it can also cut off your momentum on the task at hand.
Cell Phone Fix
Put caller ID to good use. If you suspect the call is not urgent, let it go to voicemail. If you're working on a particularly intense project, consider silencing your phone so you're not tempted to answer. Choose specific times to check voicemail. Listening to all your messages at once can be less disruptive than taking every call as it comes in.
If you've mastered the art of multitasking, you probably feel you're getting more done in less time. Think again, experts say. Research suggests you lose time whenever you shift your attention from one task to another. The end result is that doing three projects simultaneously usually takes longer than doing them one after the other.
Whenever possible, devote your attention to one project at a time, particularly if you're working on an intense or high-priority task. Save your multitasking skills for chores that are not urgent or demanding -- it probably won't hurt to tidy up your desk while talking on the phone.
Some of the tasks we have to do each day are more interesting than others. The boring ones may burn through your attention span in minutes, making you extremely vulnerable to distractions. Your phone, the Internet, even the prospect of dusting your workspace can seem tempting if you're bored.
Make a deal with yourself: If you stay on task for a certain period of time, you earn a 10-minute break. Reward yourself with coffee, a favorite snack, or a walk outside. Boring tasks are easier to accomplish when you have something to look forward to. This is also one case where multitasking may work well. Listening to the radio while filing receipts could help you stay put long enough to finish the job.
Culprit: Nagging Thoughts
It's hard to focus on the work in front of you if you're worrying about errands you need to run or housework to be done. Or perhaps you're hung up on a conversation you had yesterday, and you keep replaying it in your mind. Nagging thoughts of any sort can be a powerful distraction.
Nagging Thoughts Fix
One way to keep nagging thoughts from buzzing around in your brain is to write them down. Make a list of errands, housework, or other tasks you plan to complete later. Vent frustrations over an unpleasant confrontation in your journal. Once these thoughts are on paper, you may be able to let them go for a while.
When you feel like you have too much on your plate, it can be hard to focus on individual tasks. To make matters worse, stress takes a noticeable toll on the body. You may develop tight shoulders, headaches, or a racing heart, all of which can chip away at your ability to concentrate.
Learn stress reduction techniques, such as meditation. This can help you rein in stressful thoughts, so they don't demand so much of your attention. In one study, researchers found that people who took an eight-week meditation course improved their ability to focus. If you can't find a meditation class locally, look for one online.
Fatigue can make it tough to concentrate, even when you have few distractions. Studies suggest too little sleep can sap your attention span and short-term memory.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Instead of burning the midnight oil, make sleep a priority. This will help you get more done during your waking hours. Also, pay attention to which times of day you feel most alert. Then you'll know when to schedule your most intense tasks.
The brain can't focus without fuel, so skipping meals -- especially breakfast -- is a top concentration killer. Research indicates short-term memory and attention suffer when you rise and shine but do not dine.
Keep hunger at bay and give your brain a steady source of fuel with these habits:
- Always eat breakfast.
- Eat high-protein snacks (cheese, nuts)
- Skip simple carbs (sweets, white pasta)
- Choose complex carbs (whole grains)
Most people tend to think of sadness as the hallmark of depression. But the National Institute of Mental Health says difficulty concentrating is one of the most common symptoms. If you're having trouble focusing, and you also feel empty, hopeless, or indifferent, you may be experiencing depression.
If you think you might be depressed, the first step is to talk with a doctor or counselor. Depression is highly treatable. Many studies have shown the effectiveness of antidepressant medications and certain types of talk therapy.
Unfortunately, some of the medications used to treat depression can interfere with concentration. The same is true of many other drugs. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to check if a medication or supplement you are taking may be affecting your concentration.
If you suspect your meds are clouding your concentration, don't assume there are no other options. Talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosage or switching to a different class of medication. Do not stop taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just a problem for children. More than half of kids with ADHD continue to experience symptoms as adults. The classic signs are a short attention span and trouble focusing on tasks.
If you have consistent trouble focusing, and you had attention problems as a child, ask a doctor or counselor about ADHD. There are ways to manage the condition, including behavioral therapy and medications.
Reviewed by Sabrina Felson on 6/24/2018
Not only is there “more and more stuff going into the systems,” he says, but companies that produce and market that stuff are getting better at keeping you on their platforms.“One of way of doing that is serving you content that keeps you sitting at the computer,” Lehmann says. “That has to do with both sending you something interesting but [also] making it easier to get that next piece of information.”The outliers in the study -- meaning visitors were not spending as much time there -- were the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, where Lehmann suggested visitors tend to focus on finding quick answers to a specific question; and scientific journals --“It’s more painful than being on Facebook scrolling through a news feed,” he says.The study feeds into an ongoing debate about the effects the electronic revolution of the past 3 decades has had on how our brains work. Richard Restak, MD, says the immersion in technology is rewiring people’s brains and can produce effects similar to those seen in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“People with ADHD, when they’re not medicated, describe a constant bombardment of sensory inputs of every sort,” says Restak, a neurologist at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “All the medications do is cut it down to one or two things, which is normal.”The brain can adapt to meet those new demands and perceptions, and there’s some evidence that’s happening, Restak says. There has been an increase in diagnoses of ADHD in adults, while children who grew up in the internet era “are much more comfortable with multitasking, and much more adept at it.”Other researchers have warned about negative consequences of being immersed in electronic stimuli, suggesting some people are susceptible to internet “addiction” that can affect relationships and jobs the same way substance abuse or compulsive gambling can.The American Psychological Association says more than 4 out of 5 Americans are “very attached” to their electronic devices. And while about two-thirds of them believe it’s important to unplug once in a while, barely a quarter ever do it, the organization found.
A lot of us have had a feeling that things are moving faster.Sune Lehmann, PhD, a co-author of the study
Much of the concern about media and attention span focuses on children. The APA recommends consistent limits on screen time for school-age children and various recommendations for kids under 6. But Lehmann says the new study suggests it’s an issue for adults, too.“On Reddit and Twitter, the main user group might skew slightly younger, although with a large fraction of adult users,” he says. “But movies, books, et cetera, would have a quite balanced audience.”