Science Shows: Humans Have Massive Capacity For Sustained Attention, And Storytelling Unlocks It - Forbes

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In 2015, the Internet blew up with a shocking caller statistic: "humans person an 8-second attraction span. Less than that of a goldfish! And it's getting shorter!

Time, The Independent, and adjacent the New York Times Opinion conception repeated it. Marketers swarmed to Twitter's advertizing platform, the Internet's earthy hunting crushed for recognition card-wielding goldfish. Conference keynote speakers gleefully enactment banal photos of goldfish successful their slides.

It was even reported that the NBA was considering shortening games owed to audiences' shortening attraction spans.

These quick-hit thought pieces and the umpteen follow-on blog posts of snackable contented each referenced "research." The much reputable quality outlets specified that it was a survey by Microsoft's Advertising section which surveyed 1,200 Canadians astir their Internet habits.

But it turns retired that the attraction span statistic itself didn't travel from that survey.

Someone connected the Microsoft Ads squad recovered it connected a website called Statistics Brain (now rebranded arsenic Statistic Brain), which astatine the clip was an SEO website masquerading arsenic an world institution. This website so had published the 8-second stat, citing 2 sources. But upon inspection, 1 root was an analytics study astir 25 radical who rapidly near websites they didn't like... successful 2008. (An unthinkable logical leap from determination to the goldfish claim.)

Statistics Brain’s different root told reporters that what Statistics Brain had posted was false.

An enterprising writer from the BBC unsuccessfully pushed Statistics Brain to beryllium its assertion, past talked to technological researchers who really survey attraction span and concluded: this statistic is wholly untrue.

Microsoft has since taken down the study from its website. Statistic Brain has since created an infographic astir a non-scientific experimentation meant to beryllium the misleading 8-second stat post-facto.

And the information is laid bare: the “news” that humans person goldfish-level attraction spans was fake.

According to existent sceince, humans person overmuch longer attraction spans than goldfish

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The Company That Could Have Told You That Goldfish Statistic Was Fiction The Whole Time...

If we were going to combat stats with stats, there's 1 institution that has had each the counter-argumentary firepower successful its arsenal the full clip Statistics Brain's mendacious stat was being proliferated astir the web: Netflix.

Netflix famously tracks astir everything its viewers do. And each that tracking tells Netflix that radical wage attraction to bully movies and bid for a batch longer than 8 seconds. They adjacent know erstwhile the mean idiosyncratic volition deed the tipping constituent and beryllium apt to decorativeness an full season. (It's occurrence 4 of Kimmy Schmidt, and occurrence 2 of Breaking Bad, FYI.)

Two years aft the bogus "goldfish" stat came out, Deloitte released a study saying that 73% of radical had binge-watched a show, meaning they'd watched 5 hours of contented successful a azygous sitting.

If anything, 1 could reason from these statistic that the quality attraction span is increasing.

That would beryllium arsenic unscientific a takeaway arsenic the goldfish thing. But the constituent is, humans, inarguably, person the capableness to wage attraction to things for agelong periods of time.

There Are Different Types Of "Attention"—And Some Activities Sustain The Human Brain's Attention Better

There's a large quality betwixt "actively trying to wage attention" and "deliberately dividing your attention."

When you perceive to a podcast portion driving to work, you're specifically dividing your attention. Or rather, you're alternating what you're focusing connected (driving oregon listening) portion paying a debased level of selective attraction to both.

When you browse societal media connected your telephone portion watching TV successful the background, and you tune successful each erstwhile successful a portion to a country oregon joke, you're paying selective attraction to 1 happening portion mostly paying attraction to another.

Advertisers cognize that erstwhile they're trying to scope you with a message, they person to get you to leap retired of immoderate you're intentionally paying attraction to, truthful you tin unintentionally pay attraction to them. That's wherefore commercials thin to beryllium louder than the amusement you're watching—and wherefore bully ads deed you with novelty oregon familiarity, 2 things that pique your brain's attention.

And immoderate things, alternatively than simply getting america to selectively wage attention, tin really induce sustained attention. Deep enactment (when you get into a authorities of originative flow), for example, tin clasp one’s attraction for agelong periods of time.

But 1 of the astir reliable mechanisms for sustaining attention—according to existent science—is storytelling.

What Science Actually Shows: Storytelling Induces "Immersion" In The Brain

Have you ever been watching a large movie, past abruptly a sound successful your location snaps you backmost to reality? You were truthful sucked successful that you forgot that you were sitting connected a couch, watching a movie? That feeling of being wholly captivated is called immersion.

For the past 20 years, scientists like Dr. Paul Zak person been studying the experiences that induce this immersive state. In wide scientists person observed that erstwhile much of our brains are progressive successful peculiar ways, we wage attraction and encode much into memory. And bully stories thin to cheque each the boxes. But the large epiphany for Dr. Zak and his neuro-technology institution (which is really called Immersion), is that immersive storytelling releases the empathy-related chemic oxytocin successful our brains.

For example, erstwhile we brushwood a communicative that we tin relate to, our brains wage attention. We subconsciously grasp onto, gravitate to the familiar. That's not capable to prolong our attention, though, truthful a bully communicative hooks america with the familiar, and past uses novelty arsenic a mechanics to support america going.

What's truly afoot here: a large communicative triggers the subtle affectional centers of our brains truthful we tin attraction capable to support going. Novelty triggers surprise, delight, fascination. Tension triggers anxiety, curiosity, cravings. Relatability triggers empathy, nostalgia, happiness.

And erstwhile you weave those things successful combination, you tin drawstring unneurotic a longer attraction span.

What Humans' Large Capacity For Attention Means For Business

The goldfish attraction span stat whitethorn look similar a harmless illustration of fake quality earlier fake quality got sinister (although history shows that it's been utilized sinisterly for a agelong time). But the proliferation of this misunderstanding of quality attraction span has had a immense interaction connected the concern satellite successful peculiar (and perchance contributed to the streaming video catastrophe that was Quibi).

For example, galore leaders contiguous mistakenly deliberation that nary 1 volition wage attraction to a connection that isn't ultra quick. And if you judge that, you apt won't see the kinds of information, affectional hooks, and communicative that tin get your assemblage to attraction astir your connection successful the archetypal place.

Similarly, marketers and salespeople aiming for 8-second scraps of attraction contiguous indispensable thin connected punchy, flashy, "just the facts ma'am" benignant of messaging. But what they sacrifice successful doing truthful is representation encoding. And you person to deed idiosyncratic with that benignant of connection implicit and implicit if you privation it to stick. Instead, if these folks knew it was imaginable to prolong their audience's attention, they mightiness really bash conscionable that (Which mightiness marque them basal retired versus their competitors)

And if you're successful the concern of storytelling, you mightiness beryllium pressured connected assorted sides to marque your "content" much "snackable." Which, if you conscionable spent each the effort to get someone's attention... wherefore would you past conscionable springiness up connected trying to bent onto that attraction for longer?

Now don't get maine wrong, I deliberation inefficient, sloppy penning is the worst. It's not astir making things longer conscionable because.

The constituent is, if Disney's Andor tin get america to ticker 10 episodes successful a azygous day, past you tin propulsion yourself to archer stories that are a afloat repast alternatively than a throwaway snack.

Those are the kinds of stories we speech astir and stock with radical we attraction astir anyway—the ones that prolong us.

Shane Snow is the CEO of the virtual accumulation exertion institution SHOWRUNNER, and a keynote talker connected storytelling and reasoning differently.

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