Attention Span Shrinking

Attention Span Shrinking
  • Mar 22, 2024

Attention Span Shrinking

Do you feel your attention span has declined? A decreasing attention span is linked to stress and less efficiency in your work day.
Professor Gloria Mark and colleagues at University of California, Irvine have been tracking attention spans over the last 20 years -:

Year Time
2004 2 1/2 minutes
2012 75 seconds
2018 - 2024 47 seconds

Other studies have replicated the above results. The studies are measured objectively and unobtrusively over multiple days and multiple weeks.

So what is the actual cause of falling attention spans?

People may don't realize this but the internet was actually designed for distraction. So the internet actually encourages us to have short attention spans the design of the internet in terms of its node and link structure maps on so well to how memory is theorized to be organized in terms of semantic memory.

Gloria Mark

Quick attention span changes like 47 seconds is associated with stress.

Heart Rate Variability

Researchers measure heart rate variability with heart rate monitors and wearable devices. Heart rate variability is a known indicator of stress.

When people are shifting their attention rapidly when they're multitasking, they get stressed, their blood pressure rises - the physiological marker of stress.

It's harder to pay attention to anything so we get into this cycle where our attention is shifting, we get stressed, which makes us more susceptible to distractions and it becomes harder to focus.

Gloria Mark

Myth: Strive to Focus as long as Possible

It's just not humanly possible to be able to focus for extended periods, especially with any kind of work that involves mental effort.

People have limited cognitive resources you can also think about this as limited attentional capacity.

Know your Chronotype

Chronotype is the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time. Are you an early bird or a night owl. In terms of work when are you most productive?

Performance Curve

Learn Time Management Skills that suit your chronotype.

Studies have shown that a constant craving for distraction changes the neuroplasticity of the brain - certain neural pathways form and others get closed down, which means that the same people find it difficult to focus when they get down to actually doing work.

People actually have rhythms of focused attention. This is contrary to the idea of focusing on extended hours to be as productive as possible.

Yohaku no bi: The Beauty of Empty Space

White spaces can be profoundly beautiful; full of mystery and promise, a reminder of the infinite potential that dwells within nature--and each of us.

Leave space in your day for discovery or recovery as per the Japanese term-: Yohaku no bi.

As web developers we pay attention to Principles of Interaction Design offering plenty of white space and variation to help readers skim articles like this.


In a state of flow - people are so immursed in something that time doesn't seem to matter.

Peak creativity requires the optimal amount of challenge. When too challenged or not challenged enough, you will not enter the flow state. Flow is described in the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Also refer to Systems vs Goals

References and Sources

ABC Radio National Future Tense
Professor Gloria Mark – data scientist and psychologist, Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine

Further reading Gloria Mark - Attention Span: A Ground Breaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity

Attention Span Book by Gloria Mark




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