Last week as many of you may or may not know was the season finale of The Bachelor. To those of you who think this show is ridiculous – I somewhat agree; however this year I got very attached and became addicted (sorry Mum). As Thursday night’s bachelor show began, I decided to secretly monitor my sister’s attention span by slyly recording how many times she shifted her attention away from the television to her phone, laptop or Ipad.
Human attention spans have almost halved in the last 15 years. In fact, a 2015 study concluded that human attention spans are now one second lower then a gold fish. A GOLD FISH!
With this in mind, I began monitoring my sister. I expected that her attention would be fixated to the television because sadely she also became emotionally attached to the show. As the show began, she gave the television her full attention, only switching to her phone in the ads (Ads are boring! I don’t blame her). However, as the show progressed, I noticed her attention incresingly switched to her phone. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat were stealing her attention away from the television to their mediums. As well as this, she began messaging her friends at home who were also watching the show.
Tweenty two phone checkes later and the show was finished. I recoreded eleven phone checks during the ads, and nine phone checks during the show. The television became completely neglected during those nine times as her attention was stolen by her phone – one of producers worst nightmares.
Sohlberg & Mateers (2015) suggest that attention may be broken down into three parts;
- Sustained; Maintaing prologned focus during repetitive activites
- Selective; Avoiding distraction
- Alternating; shifting attention between tasks demanding different cognitive skills.
In this instance, my sister was alternating her attention as she was focused on the television as well as her phone. However, in diverse life situations different attention types will be required e.g. a University exam will require selective attention, as it is crucial to avoid distractions.
Yet, my sister’s use of selective attention brings me to the point of ‘commercial skipping’. Commercial skipping involves a DVR that allows you to automatically skip over commercials. Although this technology is not available in my house, my sister was performing the same action as this device. And she is not alone, I know myself and others who automatically switch their attention to their phones the second television advertisements come on. Mitch Stoltz (2012) draws on this issue stating, “You are breaking the law when skipping commercials as you are robing the advertisers”.
This investigation shaped the way I perceive human attention. During the past few days I have actively noticed that my attention is rather easily shifted, whether it be at home, in the classroom or at work. I’m still not sure whether the decrease of humans attention span is a positive or negative, but I hope that future research will shape my opinion. But for now, i’ll leave you with this video so you too can measure your attention span.
Microsoft 2015, Attention Spans – Consumer Insights, viewed 23rd September 2015, pp. 1-51 Canada https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/490916/mod_resource/content/1/microsoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf
Stoltz M, 2012, ‘Tv Networks Say You’re Breaking The Law When You Skip Commericals’, Electronic Fronter Foundations, viewed 23rd September 2015 https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/05/tv-networks-say-youre-breaking-law-when-you-skip-commercials