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Science, Technology, The Mind

4 Fascinating Facts on Why You Are Easily Distracted (and not likely to read all of this)

Go on and admit it, you have a terrible attention span.

But it’s not all your fault. This is the internet after all and everyone knows that the ‘information superhighway’ is a candy store of virtual distractions – endless images, buttons and flashing graphics all competing for your attention. Right now, there’s probably four or five other things you’d quite like to be doing: Shopping on ebay, browsing YouTube for funny videos, reading emails or checking Facebook (who knows, someone might have commented on your oh-so-witty status update)!

Can't Concentrate: 14/365

Find it difficult to stay focused?

If you’re still reading then feel proud of yourself – you tenacious person you – because you belong a special minority that isn’t as easily distracted! Today’s post looks at four fascinating facts that show how pitiful we all are at keeping on task (and don’t worry they are fairly short)…

4. 80% percent of people don’t read past the headline

Let’s face it, you’re a busy person. There are lots of things to do and not enough time to do it in. So why waste your time reading things you don’t need to?

But don’t delude yourself by thinking you’re good at selecting the best information – most people won’t bother to read articles in newspapers or on websites simple because the headlines aren’t exciting enough.

I hate the New York Post

Tabloids are the masters at compelling headlines!

Tabloids are the most popular type of newspaper, and for one very good reason – they get all the best headlines. I bet you just can’t resist wanting to know more about the “9-month baby who gets black belt in karate” (I know I want to read the full article)!

We humans just can’t resist flocking to something that sounds sexy, funny or scandalous!

3. You think you know a good website in under 50 milliseconds!

Has anyone ever said that you jump to conclusions? Well, you do – and you do it very quickly:

Your first response to anything new is a guttural, emotional one. Everything you see, hear or smell shortcuts around the logical ‘thinking’ mind and takes a neural-superhighway to the sensual and primitive parts of your brain.

Within one twentieth of a second of looking at a website, your unconscious mind has made a decision whether something in it appeals to you. Just like the instant ‘spark’ of attraction when seeing someone beautiful (Keira Knightley or Johnny Depp anyone?), this snap assessment of appearance, style and layout forms a judgement that sticks: Everything from this point on is biased by your first reaction..

2. If it’s got your attention for more than 5 seconds, it must be good…

User Exp

A website might have all the information you need, but is it beautiful enough for you to notice it?

And you thought you were a rational and objective person?!

Web designers and online businesses are forever trying to come up with ingenious ways to keep people on their website.

But if your initial emotional reaction had been bad, then you will unwittingly notice all the bad things and ignore the good. Conversely, a good first impression will colour everything you see and you will only tend to notice the good things.

(Psychologists call this confirmation bias)

The average time on a website is 55 seconds, but over half of people will stop reading within 5 seconds! I guess first impressions really do count…

1. It’s not all the internet’s fault!

Given how quickly we are distracted, it’s no wonder that lots of people have pointed the finger at the internet for practically turning us into ‘a generation of digital goldfish‘. And Brain research suggests this could be true – after intensive internet use, the brain starts to rewire itself! This finding has led some to many an attention-grabbing headline, such as “The Web Shatters Focus and Rewires Brains“.

Reading

The Joy of Reading: Reading books and internet browsing are different skills.

It would be unwise to jump to emotive conclusions too soon – In reality, the brain is a very malleable little organ that is expert in adapting to intellectual challenges. Internet browsing is a different skill to reading a book; it involves searching and decision-making and so naturally the brain forms new neural pathways to be able compensate for this challenge.

The jury is still out on whether technology (TV, internet, video-gaming) has any real detrimental effect in the long-term – but it is unlikely. Using the internet is a skill that can be learnt and unlearned, just like any other. It would be prudent to practice both book reading or internet browsing – and this should be especially true for children and young people.

A final point to consider: Newspaper readers may look suave and cultured, but they really aren’t much better than the ‘Net Generation’on average only 25% of newspaper articles are read at all (and those that are are generally the shortest ones with the most pictures)!!

newspaper

He's really just looking at the pictures...

Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


.

References:

Lindgaard, G., Fernandes, G., Dudek, C., & Brown, J. (2006). Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression! Behaviour & Information Technology, 25 (2), 115-126 DOI: 10.1080/01449290500330448

Holmqvist, K., Holsanova, J., Barthelson, M., & Lundqvist, D (2003). Reading or scanning? A study of newspaper and net paper reading. The mind’s eye: cognitive and applied aspects of eye movement research, 657-670

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

6 thoughts on “4 Fascinating Facts on Why You Are Easily Distracted (and not likely to read all of this)

  1. Congratulations, awesome post…

    Posted by NIetzsche | April 7, 2011, 4:11 pm
  2. Sorry – I stopped paying attention after the second line!

    Posted by Ben Veal | April 9, 2011, 10:19 pm
  3. Only kidding – great post!

    Posted by Ben Veal | April 9, 2011, 10:19 pm

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