An attention span is a measure of the amount of time someone can stay focused on a particular task, thought, or conversation without being distracted.
What Is an Attention Span?
Attention span is a measure for how easily distracted a person is, and longer attention spans usually make it easier for people to complete tasks and remain organized. A person’s attention span also affects social interactions; some people struggle to remain focused on conversations without becoming distracted or fidgeting.
A person’s attention span varies with context and the type of task. Some people are able to concentrate longer on certain kinds of tasks, such as games, reading, or conversations, than they can focus on other types of tasks. Distraction-filled environments can decrease a person’s attention span. People generally have shorter attention spans in loud, chaotic environments or when they are stressed.
Some researchers have expressed concern that the proliferation of technology and social networking is decreasing people’s attention spans. The need to respond quickly to texts, emails, online chats, and social networking statuses can make it difficult to focus on a single task for a long period of time. People may also have fewer opportunities to practice focusing for long periods of time and may crave more distractions and stimulation, both of which can make it more difficult to focus.
Estimates of the average attention span range from 5–20 minutes, but these are only estimates, and can vary greatly from person to person.
Attention and Mental Health
A variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and ADHD can affect a person’s ability to focus. A combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and in some cases medication can help improve a person’s attention span. Some people need to institute specific strategies, such as taking frequent breaks or turning off electronics, to remain focused.
- Heffernan, V. (2010, November 21). The attention-span myth. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/magazine/21FOB-medium-t.html
- Vidyarthi, N. (2011, December 14). Attention spans have dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes. Social Times. Retrieved from http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479
Last Updated: 02-18-2016
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