Is our attention span decreasing?

Have you heard that a human’s attention span is around 8 seconds and is lower than a goldfish? This idea is spreading like wildfire and hasn’t stopped burning. But might this all be true? 

It all allegedly came from Microsoft Canada, which conducted research in 2015 and was reported by countless reputable newspapers and magazines. After 7 long years, we are still spreading the news. However, according to blog posts by Jason Miller in 2016 and Sword and the Script in 2022, the claim of the 8 seconds attention span and comparing it to a goldfish’s 9-second, isn’t true!

Jason took a deep dive and found that Microsoft’s research does exist and an infographic revealing that human attention spans dropped from 12 to 8 seconds and a goldfish is at 9 seconds. The problem is that the infographic was sourced from a website called ‘Statistics Brain’ which didn’t mention the attention span of humans or goldfish. The attention span was debunked back in 2016 but very few people paid much attention to it, which is ironic. The research did however find that we are likely to experience reduced attention when spending a lot of time on multi-screen or social media, due to its repetitive and sometimes boring nature.

One of the most recent blogs by Steven Zauderer (Average Human Attention Span By Age), still uses a goldfish’s 9-second attention span compared to humans. This could potentially lead you to the wrong impression that your marketing content must be short to catch attention. In fact, if your content is engaging or appealing, people would definitely pay more attention to it.

We can now process more information quickly, thanks to all the training from the sheer amount of information we have every day. We often get new information every single hour (if you leave your news app notifications on).

So, how do you  keep your audience engaged for more than 8 seconds?

The key is to keep information simple

Your audience doesn’t need a whole minute to understand every detail of what you are selling. Find your main feature and convey it in as few words as possible. Sometimes you don’t even need words, an image can speak a thousand words. Once you have their attention, you can create “find out more information” or simply link your image or messages to where you want your audience to be. 

You can no longer put out detailed information right from the first touchpoint. Know your audience and get straight to the point. You will then find that people have more than 8 seconds of attention remaining and want to spend it on the right thing.

Written by Kuan-Yu Lan