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What Is Considered a Normal Attention Span?

Technology can have a negative effect on a person's attention span.
Attention spans increase with age, and should be at least 15 to 20 minutes by the time time a person is in their early 20s.
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  • Written By: Paul Cartmell
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Age is a determining factor of the normal attention span in babies, children, and adults. A child's attention span generally gets longer with age, and by the time he or she reaches his or her late teens or early 20s, it should be at least 15 to 20 minutes. Activities also can affect attention spans, since attention is typically held for longer periods by people who are taking part in activities that interest them.

Babies are born with a short attention span that is held only for a few seconds for about the first 10 days of life. Development of the attention span differs in children after this period. Babies often develop longer attention spans by staring into the face of their parents or caretakers for varying amounts of time. During the first year of life, each baby is different, with some having short attention spans of a few seconds and others maintaining attention for minutes on a single activity. Either is considered normal.

Children who are attending school develop a longer attention span through the activities typically completed in an educational environment. Girls usually are equipped with longer attention spans than boys during their school years. Older students continue to develop longer attention spans as they are provided with new experiences and activities.

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Various factors can affect how the attention span develops, including learning difficulties throughout childhood. Medical conditions that affect it include attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Attention can be affected when the focus of the child or adult is placed on small, insignificant details or by the general restlessness caused by ADD and ADHD.

Technology can have a negative effect on attention span, even in adults. In some cases, the large amount of information that is available on the Internet can reduce an adult's attention span to less than 60 seconds as he or she surfs from website to website. Extreme cases of Internet addiction can reduce the attention span of an adult to less than 10 seconds.

College students have an average normal attention span of 15 to 20 minutes. Lectures and classes are commonly 50 to 75 minutes long and require being broken up into smaller sections to maintain the attention of average students. These short segments can be be interspersed with short activities, during which the attention is focused on the activity before being brought back to the lecture or class when the activity is over.

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Discuss this Article

Ted41
Post 4

@Azuza - I think the fact that everything on the Internet is very fast probably contributes to the decrease in attention span. Clicking from one website to another is almost instant in many cases. Also, there is a lot of stimulation everywhere online, from videos to photos to audio clips. This over-stimulation probably adversely effects attentions spans too.

Azuza
Post 3

I have heard that the Internet can have a negative effect on the average attention span of an adult. I'm a freelance writer, and I sometimes write for web-based audiences.

One thing I was told when I first started is that people have short attention spans when they're surfing the net. So you have to get their attention very early on in what you're writing, because it's very, very easy to click away to a different webpage.

starrynight
Post 2

@strawCake - I've noticed over the years that school isn't usually set up for optimum success. For example, teenagers are naturally supposed to stay up later and sleep later, but high school usually starts very early in the morning. So it's not surprising to me that many classes do the same thing for longer than the average attention span.

strawCake
Post 1

It's kind of comforting to know that a college student usually only has an attention span of 15 to 20 minutes. I've always been a pretty good student, and I really do enjoy school.

However, when I was in college I noticed my mind would start wandering after about 20 minutes of lecture. This was especially difficult when I was in lecture courses in a dark auditorium (I took a lot of art history, which involves looking at a lot of slides) for over an hour.

I somehow made it through though, but I wish my professors would have taken a cue from this article and broken the class up into smaller segments.

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