Goldfish Now Have Longer Attention Spans Than Humans

by Amy Blankson for Great Leadership

In 2013, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that the average attention span of a human has dropped to a mere eight seconds, one second behind that of a goldfish. Why does this matter? Distraction in the digital era has become an epidemic, robbing us of our focus, decreasing our productivity and hindering our overall life satisfaction. Our jobs today are “interrupt-driven,” with distractions not just a plague on our work—sometimes they can mean the difference between success and failure.

According to Cyrus Foroughi, a doctoral student at George Mason University one minute of distraction is more than enough to wipe your short-term memory. An interruption as short as 2.8 seconds (the length of time it takes to read a short text message) can double error rates on simple sequencing tasks and a 4.4 second interruption can triple error rates.  Linda Stone, a software executive who has worked for both Apple and Microsoft, explains that we are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we never focus on anything, a phenomenon she calls “continuous partial attention.”

Instead, messages undiscerningly bombard us, with the senders rationalizing that we can choose when and where to open a message. The results of a recent survey of smartphone users include:

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