How tough it is for you to focus on the present? Do you struggle? Or do you find it cakewalk?
Attention span: The real story
For children, the ability to concentrate on a task for an extended period of time is a very important skill to develop. Recently, attention-span persistence for a bunch of 4-year olds was studied, in which the parents told about their children staying hooked to one toy for hours as well as qualifying as frequent toy-hoppers. They also marked out similarities and dissimilarities between their respective children, which helped to estimate attention span for an individual child on a scale of 1 to 5.
These children were again tested as young adults of 21 years. The first test on attention span-persistence predicted individual capabilities in maths and reading and whether they will complete college by 25. The prediction was tallied to the current numbers and was found almost accurate.
This proves: Sustained attention over longer periods can improve behaviour, emotions and overall academic success.
Attention! More stats!!
There was another sustained attention study on a varying age group, a total of 10,430 participants. It was seen that ability to focus varies over age; so does the ability to respond correctly and consistently, as well as detecting targets within a task. It was at the peak for people in their early 40s whereas from the mid-40s, it shows a gradual decline. The improvement begins from as early as 15 years; however, this capability does not decline with age until people reach their late 40s.
Not just children…
Returning to the daily groove after a week or so of fun and frolic is tough. Yet, some cope with it easily while some take a little longer to re-schedule. The problem is with them who don’t regroup or take much longer to re-settle. It presents many challenges.
It’s double trouble if the vacation is offshore, in another time zone. Jet lags are our circadian rhythm got awry; it needs a reset. That doesn’t happen too easily for some. 30 seconds or so and they are lost in another random thought.
Maintaining focus involves control on attention. The ability to maintain concentration on a task, or focusing, for extended periods, got a few factors related.
Is that intelligence? Can it be changed?
Two sides to the story (and maybe, a third one)
When we are talking about attention span, 2 different aspects need to be considered:
- Space of focus: Where you are putting your attention?
- Size of the focus: On how many objects are you processing the data simultaneously?
The third factor – if you want to consider and sensibly, you must – is time. It is of little use if focus can’t be maintained for as long as it is wanted. How long can you concentrate on a task before you are distracted? Sustaining attention through repetitive and boring jobs is where you earn your credits. Is there a way to measure this time-based attention span? Seems there are.
Measuring sustained attention
- The Continuous Performance Task: Results vary according to the nature of the task and the test subject. If the subject finds the task of engaging and arousing, it will only better the performance.
- Sustained Attention to Response Task: The subject is shown a series of single digits appearing on his/her computer screen. The digits change rapidly, in repeating preset sequences of 1 to 9. The participant presses a key when a digit (except the number, 3) shows. This task spans little over five minutes. Most children and adults start pressing keys after 3 shows for a few times, whereas children with ADHD press keys many times after seeing the 3. Administering medications such as Ritalin has improved such performances.
On the flip side:
What about the same children holding on to computer games for hours at a stretch? ADHD children do that pretty easily, but struggle with the Sustained Attention to Response Task. Looking a little bit into the brain mechanism will show the setup for quick response normally to the stimulation from the environment. It’s like an alarm going off. The mental effort to direct attention from within oneself, in this case, is a reflex. So attention span can be changed, provided the stimulus is appropriate.
Intelligence and focus
Deep focus and intelligence are intertwined. Intelligence alone is just half the story. Even for the IQ test, the subject must maintain attention to the problems to be solved. Sustained attention enhances performance and present mental and physical state influences sustained attention phases, which is, overall performance. For example, a highly anxious mind with memories of past failures can be crippling; within limits, it can boost the mind. It can create either a positive or a negative impact on your sustained attention performance.
Quick, short remedies: ADHD antidotes
Aerobics and caffeine have proven to be significant remedies. Together, their effects are magnified many times. It has also got to do a little something with the hormonal sides, but that’s a different story to be told at a different time, at a different place.