Are you smarter than a goldfish?

Yes, of course you are, but it turns out you are less attentive

A recent study published by Microsoft found that humans now have an attention span shorter than your average goldfish – and we have technology to thank for it. I say thank for it, because it might not necessarily be as bad as it sounds. Researchers collected data from a test group of more than 2,000 Canadians (and if there’s a better cross-section of internet users than the always-pleasant Canucks, I certainly can’t think of one) over the age of 18 by having them play games and interact online to help determine the impact of digital media. In a truly Orwellian move, the subjects’ behaviour was filmed and their brain activity monitored as they interacted across various social media platforms and devices, leading to findings that the human attention span has fallen since the year 2000 – from an average of 12 seconds down to eight. Making us a whole one-second less attentive than Blinky The Goldfish.

It’s also important to take into account that this may be due to the fact that we have far greater access to information online than ever before

The study also found that out of people aged 18 to 24, 77 per cent responded “yes” when posed the question “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” This is in contrast to only ten per cent of people over 65 years old. Now, while this study proves something that we’ve all probably suspected for quite some time – that it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that people’s attention spans are indeed getting shorter – it’s also important to take into account that this may be due to the fact that we have far greater access to information online than ever before. Whether it’s sat hunched in front of a desktop or glancing sideways at a smartwatch, this scattershot approach of instant access to everything from music and video to news and social media means that as a species we are absorbing more content than would have been previously available to us even a short decade ago. It appears that in an effort to keep up we are adapting (and we all know how good humans are at that) to deal with this wealth of available content by shortening the time we spend on individual pieces of information in favour of more, more, more.


The rub, perhaps, is whether we are fully internalizing everything we consume to the best of our ability without it getting lost in a mess of Buzzfeed articles and cat videos. One hopes that this is the case, but it’s up to people far cleverer than I to ask and answer this sort of question. Maybe the next study we conduct should strive to determine if quantity of information truly is better than quality?