I just came back from a safety conference where one of the presenters stated that humans have an attention span of 8 seconds – less than that of a goldfish. While this is a vivid and easy to remember statistic that many presenters and media sources like to repeat, it is not proven and there seems to be little to no evidence backing it up.
If you think about it, imagine what we would be like if we really only could pay attention for 8 seconds. Our training classes would be chaotic! While I agree 100% that it is important to include as many opportunities as possible for trainees to be involved during training to help keep them involved and focused, I don’t think we have to worry about people zoning out every 8 seconds. The original source of the goldfish story has not been backed up. More recent studies show much more interesting data pointing out that 1) we don’t have shorter attention spans than goldfish* (usually attributed to the increased use of technology), 2) we are becoming better at multi-tasking (thanks to technology) and 3) our attention spans are actually evolving and learning to be more selective. I am sure you can relate to this as well as I can. We are flooded with information so if you are like me, you will see something and quickly decide if it’s worth your attention before moving to the next thing. In these cases, I am sure my attention span is less than 3 seconds! There is so much coming at us from every direction, we need to be able to limit our focus to a few seconds so that we can focus longer on what’s important.
One important thing I’d like to point out is the overuse of the whole goldfish and attention span story. Even though the original goldfish story was published by Microsoft in 2015 and is still quoted as fact every day in 2019, it has not been backed up by science. In fact, there are dozens of more recent reports that have debunked the goldfish attention span myth. Telling and re-telling the goldfish story is in effect, fake news. As trainers, we need to check and re-check the stories and statistics such as this before we teach them to others as “the way it is.” The goldfish attention span story is relatively harmless but it’s an example of how something can so easily perpetuate. Going past the first page of Google search results can often show facts, research and opinions that differ from the more popular ones being quoted by everyone else. A few resources to check your information, plus a few links about the goldfish attention span story are below. I hope you can come to your own conclusions and keep an open mind in the future.
PS – If you got this far, your attention span is definitely longer than 8 seconds!
Note: The lowly goldfish actually has a much longer attention span than 8 seconds and goldfish researchers take offense at this poor little guy being used as the poster child for poor attention spans. If you are really interested in goldfish attention spans, the research studies are available online.