Study: Adults Are Somehow Getting Better at Paying Attention

Adult attention spans have slightly improved over the last 30 years, according to research headed up by the University of Vienna

Young casual businessman wearing glasses is sitting in front of his notebook holding his head pondering over his work. Office equipment and another computer is in front of him.
Seriously, we're getting better at this.
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A new scientific study suggests that adults pay better attention now than they did 30 years ago.

Wait, what?

That’s the very surprising conclusion reached in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, as reported by Scientific American. In the study led by Denise Andrzejewski of the University of Vienna, researchers suggested there is a “Flynn effect” for concentration performance in adults. That effect pertains to the idea that there’s been a consistent upward drift in IQ test scores across generations.

“The ability to focus attention is a component of general intelligence and may contribute to the Flynn effect,” explains Christiane Gelitz of Scientific American. With that in mind, this analysis utilized data from 179 studies involving a total of more than 21,000 people from 32 countries between 1990 and 2021. Every participant had completed the d2 Test of Attention, a psychological test that measures the “ability of selective and sustained attention.”

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The result? There was evidence of moderate generational test score gains in concentration performance in adults but not children. In other words, adults have been getting slightly better during the past few decades at paying attention, even in a world with smartphones and the internet. There was a slight anomaly in German-speaking countries, where adults’ attention did not noticeably improve.

If you dig deeper into the report, you’ll find some other interesting observations, such as economic prosperity not really playing a role in the final results and that “Internet use predicted concentration performance positively, yielding small effects for children but no meaningful effects for adults.” There are also plenty of clarifications near the study’s end, but the general analysis seems to be that adults are getting slightly better in their ability to concentrate.

So you really have no excuse for not finishing that PowerPoint (or this article).

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