Global attention span is narrowing and trends don’t last as long, study reveals

Global attention span is narrowing and trends don't last as long, study reveals

Twitter darlings BTS. Photograph: Young Ho/SIPA USA/PA Images

It’s just as you suspected; the information age has changed the general attention span. A recently published study from researchers at the Technical University of Denmark suggests the collective global attention span is narrowing due to the amount of information that is presented to the public. Released on Monday in the scientific journal Nature Communications, the study shows people now have more things to focus on – but often focus on things for short periods of time.

The researchers studied several modes of media attention, gathered from several different sources, including (but not limited to): the past 40 years in movie ticket sales; Google books for 100 years; and more modernly, 2013 to 2016 Twitter data; 2010 to 2018 Google Trends; 2010 to 2015 Reddit trends; and 2012 to 2017 Wikipedia attention time. The researchers then created a mathematical model to predict three factors: the “hotness” of the topic, its progression throughout time in the public sphere and the desire for a new topic, said Dr Philipp Hövel, an applied mathematics professor of University College Cork in Ireland.

The empirical data found periods where topics would sharply capture widespread attention and promptly lose it just as quickly, except in the cases of publications like Wikipedia and scientific journals. For example, a 2013 Twitter global trend would last for an average of 17.5 hours, contrasted with a 2016 Twitter trend, which would last for only 11.9 hours.

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In a press release from the Technical University of Denmark, Professor Sune Lehmann, who worked on the study, said: “It seems that the allocated attention time in our collective minds has a certain size but the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed.”

“Content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more regularly,” said Philipp Lorenz-Spreen of Max Planck Institute for Human Development that also participated in the study.

The findings mostly correlate to the greater public, not the individuals who are seeing and creating the consumed media, like journalists who must compete in the accelerated news cycle.

The scientists did not respond to requests for comment.

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