Does Social Media Destroy Focus?

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Social media emoji reactions | Image by LookerStudio/Shutterstock

Too much exposure to social media could harm your attention span, a phenomenon some experts are calling “popcorn brain.”

Popcorn brain is not new, however. Researcher David Levy coined the term over a decade back in 2011. It refers to a person’s focus rapidly shifting between thoughts, likening the lack of focus to a kernel jumping around inside a bag of popcorn.

The reason for the term stems from the discovery that people’s attention spans appear to be waning. In 2003, researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that the average attention span was two and a half minutes. Less than a decade later, in 2012, the same assessment yielded an average of 75 seconds. More recently, that number has fallen even further to 45 seconds.

Put another way, people’s attention spans appear to be deteriorating, and some experts are pointing to social media as the root cause of the problem.

Dr. Kamil Atta, a psychiatrist at Plainview Hospital, told Fox 4 KDFW that social media is “extremely addictive.” According to Atta, tiny dopamine hits are constantly being stimulated, “and to stop the pattern is extremely difficult.”

Children are particularly vulnerable to the lasting effects of too much exposure to social media. Last year, The Dallas Express reported that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory around the mental effects that its overuse can cause in children.

“Today’s children and teens do not know a world without digital technology, but the digital world wasn’t built with children’s healthy mental development in mind,” said Sandy Chung, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to a press release.

To help fight against popcorn brain, Atta recommends limiting the use of devices instead of ceasing use altogether. Experts suggest replacing screen time with other activities, like exercise or reading. While it may be challenging, they also say it is essential to attempt to focus on a single activity to help improve attention span.

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