What is it with our attention spans anyway?

June 22, 2023
3 min read
Featured Image

What's happening to our attention spans? It's a question that's provoked much debate, with some suggesting they're shrinking, while others debunk this as a myth. We decided to delve a little deeper.

A 2022 survey by the Policy Institute and Centre for Attention Studies at King’s College London revealed that UK adults vastly underestimate their phone-checking habits. They believe they check their phones 25 times a day on average, but studies suggest the actual figure is as high as 80 times a day. Half admit to occasionally being unable to resist checking their smartphones when they should be focusing elsewhere, a struggle that affects both middle-aged and young people.

However, it's important to clarify that this does not necessarily indicate a shortening attention span. As Dr Briggs pointed out, "how we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation."

Professor Marion Thain, Director of the Centre for Attention Studies at King’s College London, reminds us that blaming new technologies for distraction isn't a new trend. She notes, “we know from work being done at the Centre for Attention Studies at King’s that new technologies have been blamed (rightly or wrongly) for causing crises of distraction long before the digital age.”

Co-Director of the Centre, Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, emphasises that although technology has increased distractions and potentially reduced our willingness to engage in lengthy tasks, it remains untested whether this has a genuine impact on our underlying ability to concentrate.

Interestingly, the modern information environment might even suit those with specific attention styles, such as individuals with ADHD. Defining 'normal' attention is a challenge, and different ways of concentration might give certain individuals an edge in this era of techno-cultural change.

Journalist Johann Hari, writing for The Guardian, suggests that the problem isn't that we've lost the ability to focus, but rather that our focus is being stolen. He refers to studies showing that college students only focus on a single task for 65 seconds on average, and office workers for about three minutes. According to Hari, this doesn't reflect a lack of willpower, but rather the result of continual distractions.

As per Prof Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, our brains can only generate one or two thoughts at a time in our conscious mind. Despite this, the average teenager believes they can follow six forms of media simultaneously. Miller suggests that what people perceive as multitasking is, in fact, a rapid switching between tasks, each switch incurring a cognitive cost that results in reduced performance.

So what's the truth about our attention spans?

While it's clear that our modern, digital environment poses continual distractions that can interrupt focus, there's no solid evidence to suggest that our actual attention spans are shrinking. Instead, it appears that the way we apply our attention is evolving, as we adapt to an environment in which we're frequently required to switch between tasks.

The key takeaway for our clients is not to mistake distraction for a lack of focus. By understanding the dynamic nature of attention in the digital age, we can better navigate this landscape, creating strategies that acknowledge our audience's multitasking habits and designing content that captivates and engages, even amidst the whirlwind of digital distractions.

The post What is it with our attention spans anyway? first appeared on Untitled.

In this collection


I am a creative director and product designer based in London. I have helped companies like Google, Meta, Netflix, Mercedes-Benz, Burberry and Nike create extraordinary brand experiences.

More about me


Every Wednesday I share the best in creative, tools, resources, updates and crucially real insights on how the top 1% of creatives think.

Adhacker Promo - Email newsletter by Chomoi Picho-Owiny




Dream to work with

There is only one word for Chomoi. PHENOMENAL. I LOVED working with this man. He’s creative gold. Absolutely brilliant and a dream to work with. He’s just great.

Lucy Witts

Senior Producer, Venture Video

A great inspiration

I had the pleasure of working with Chomoi and and it was great to see such a passionate and articulate creative director in action. He was a great inspiration to the team, a true professional.

Mandy Chan

Senior Interaction Designer, Google

A valuable mentor for me

Chomoi is a highly skilled and passionate creative director. I thoroughly enjoyed and learnt a great deal during our time working together... He is a person who champions creative thinking, has excellent presentation skills that are effective when communicating with clients and the wider team. Chomoi was also a valuable mentor for me, sharing his knowledge in the interests of seeing me succeed.

Fernando Lobina

Senior Designer, AKQA

A true inspiration

Chomoi is a true inspiration. His ideation is innovative. His mentoring is invaluable. I will take so much away from working alongside someone with such an abundance of experience.

Amber Howe

Design Lead, IBM Expert Labs

I’d jump at the chance to work with him again

Chomoi was always driven towards creating the best possible work we could. He's an inspiring mentor, and I'd jump at the chance to work with him again.

Eleanor Nugent

Creative Director, Warner Bros.

Genuine creative talent

Chomoi is insightful, passionate and a genuine creative talent. He is an absolute pleasure to work with and you can always rely on Chomoi to come up with strong creative work to be proud of at every meeting. I miss working with him and recommend him extremely highly!

Maggie Lonergan

CEO, Publicis Emil

A rare breed

Chomoi was an inspiration. He created solutions that clients loved, users understood, all the while focusing on the bottom line of the business. His innovative style always pushed projects further than the brief. A rare breed of Creative Director.

Hitesh Supeda

Senior Experience Designer, Habitat

An inspiring professional

He's simply an inspiring professional and a great leader. He always strives to reach creativity excellence with a smile on.

Sara Simoncini

Art Director, Sapient

Visionary and out of the box

His presentation style is extremely consultative and collaborative. He always had the end user in the centre and spun ideas that were visionary and out of the box.

Pawan Udernani

Senior Director, Publicis Sapient

His greatest forte is to contantly question key fundamentals of what’s being delivered

Highly conceptual and always hands on, Chomoi has been a storm of inspiration in every project I've worked with him. He is also quite a connoisseur of fine dining and boutique hotels.

Daisoo Lee

Creative Director, Sky

Innovative ideas

Chomoi has the ability to grasp the business need of the client, understand what the brand stands for and come up with original innovative ideas to solve the clients business problems - quicker than any other creative director I have worked with.

Shailesh Sreedharan

Senior Manager, Publicis Sapient

© Untitled Media Group Ltd 2024