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Goldfish can now concentrate for longer than the average human

How often do you fight to concentrate on your to-do list? The inability to concentrate has plagued our generation – so much so – that Microsoft carried out a study to figure out whether our tech addiction has shaped our cognitive ability. Microsoft, in their 2015 study, found that since 2000, the year of the mobile revolution, the average attention span has decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. Meaning that an ill-focused goldfish now has a longer attention span than the average human.

Why can’t we concentrate?

We are addicted to new information. The speed of internet gives us access to a multitude of instant information. Cognitive phycologist, Daniel J Levitin claims that on average we are taking in information equivalent to the content of 175 newspapers, every day. Absorbing new information is not bad for us. The issue lies with our obsession to multitask this new information. How many browsers do you have open right now? How many times have you checked your emails, Whatsapp or Facebook whilst carrying out another task? Multitasking is our norm and here is why we need to stop doing it.

What the goldfish don’t want you to know

Multitasking is the misconception that we can manage various tasks simultaneously. What we are actually doing is switching our focus from task to task, very quickly. When we quickly switch between tasks we use our brains oxygenated, glucose source.  This causes a “brain drain” and makes us feel drowsy and disorientated. Does the “what was I just doing” thought sound familiar? In addition, over using our brains oxygenated glucose source causes our bodies to release the stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone makes us feel anxious and hinders our ability to make rational decisions. In essence, multitasking is about as productive as deciding to get drunk and go to work.

Why we need to be aware of the multitasking trap

Our pre-frontal cortex, has a “novelty bias” meaning that it sends reward chemicals (Dopamine) to various parts of the brain when it receives shiny new information. For example, when we get distracted by phone alerts or Facebook notifications –our brain is rewarded for receiving this new information. We, however, are left distracted from the task at hand. Due to our digital multitasking obsession, our brains are now hooked on higher levels of Dopamine. This means our brains crave distractions more than ever before. What can we do? The best thing we can do is be aware of why we are so easily distracted i.e our brain craving Dopamine and not because the shiny new information is more relevant than the task at hand. So, instead of instantly reaching for our phones when an alert sounds we should rationalise which task is more important – the present task – or the phone alert. By training our brains to tolerate lower levels of Dopamine we can start to become a less distracted generation!

To read more of Daniel J Levitin’s research – you can purchase his book here

This article used the helpful research provided by the BBC, in their article – Why Can’t I concentrate, found here

Image curtesy of Benson Kua on flickr Benson Kua – flickr the image has not been amended.

Written by on behalf of PCA Law