Attention span is the amount of time spent concentrating on a task before becoming distracted.[1] Distractibility occurs when attention is uncontrollably diverted to another activity or sensation.[2] Attention training is said to be part of education, particularly in the way students are trained to remain focused on a topic of discussion for extended periods, developing listening and analytical skills in the process.[3]

By age

Measuring humans estimated attention span depends on what the attention is being used for. The terms “transient attention” and “selective sustained attention” are used to separate short term and focused attention. Transient attention is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts or distracts attention. Researchers disagree on the exact amount of the human transient attention span, whereas selective sustained attention, also known as focused attention, is the level of attention that produces consistent results on a task over time. Common estimates of the attention span of healthy teenagers and adults range 5 hours. This is possible because people can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing.[4] This ability to renew attention permits people to 'pay attention' to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as lengthy films.

Older children are capable of longer periods of attention than younger children.[5]

For time-on-task measurements, the type of activity used in the test affects the results, as people are generally capable of a longer attention span when they are doing something that they find enjoyable or intrinsically motivating.[4] Attention is also increased if the person is able to perform the task fluently, compared to a person who has difficulty performing the task, or to the same person when they are just learning the task. Fatigue, hunger, noise, and emotional stress reduce the time focused on the task.

A research study that consisted of 10,430 males and females ages 10 to 70 observed sustained attention time across a lifespan. The study required participants to use a cognitive testing website where data was gathered for seven months. The data collected from the study concluded that attention span is not one singular linear equation; at age 15 it is recorded that attention-span-related abilities diverge. Over the course of the study, collected evidence additionally found that, in humans, attention span is at its highest level when a person is in their early 40s, then gradually declines in old age.[6]


Many different tests on attention span have been used in different populations and in different times. Some tests measure short-term, focused attention abilities (which is typically below normal in people with ADHD), and others provide information about how easily distracted the test-taker is (typically a significant problem in people with ADHD). Tests like the DeGangi's Test of Attention in Infants (TAI) and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV (WISC-IV) are commonly used to assess attention-related issues in young children when interviews and observations are inadequate.[7] Older tests, like the Continuous Performance Test and the Porteus Maze Test, have been rejected by some experts.[7] These tests are typically criticized[by whom?] as not actually measuring attention, being inappropriate for some populations, or not providing clinically useful information.

Variability in test scores can be produced by small changes in the testing environment.[7] For example, test-takers will usually remain on task for longer periods of time if the examiner is visibly present in the room than if the examiner is absent.


In an early study of the influence of temperament on attention span, the mothers of 232 pairs of twins were interviewed periodically about the similarities and differences in behavior displayed by their twins during infancy and early childhood. The results showed that each of the behavioral variables (temper frequency, temper intensity, irritability, crying, and demanding attention) had a significant inverse relationship with attention span. In other words, the twin with longer attention span was better able to remain performing a particular activity without distraction, and was also the less temperamental twin.[8]

One study of 2600 children found that early exposure to television (around age two) is associated with later attention problems such as inattention, impulsiveness, disorganization, and distractibility at age seven.[9][10] This correlational study does not specify whether viewing television increases attention problems in children, or if children who are naturally prone to inattention are disproportionately attracted to the stimulation of television at young ages, or if there is some other factor, such as parenting skills, associated with this finding.

Another study examining the relations between children’s attention span-persistence in preschool and later academic achievements found that children’s age 4 attention span-persistence significantly predicted math and reading achievement at age 21 after controlling for achievement levels at age 7, adopted status, child vocabulary skills, gender, and maternal education level. For instance, children who enrolled in formal schooling without the ability to pay attention, remember instructions, and demonstrate self-control have more difficulty in elementary school and throughout high school.[11]

In another study involving 10,000 children (ages 8 to 11), fluctuations in attention span were observed during the school day, with higher levels of attention in the afternoon and lower levels in the morning. The study also found that student awareness and productivity increased after a two-day weekend but substantially decreased after summer break.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Beger R (2018). Present-Day Corporate Communication: A Practice-Oriented, State-of-the-Art Guide. Singapore: Springer. p. 18. ISBN 978-981-13-0401-9.
  2. ^ Schaefer C, Millman H (1994). How to Help Children with Common Problems. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-56821-272-2.
  3. ^ Maconie R (2007). The Way of Music: Aural Training for the Internet Generation. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-8108-5879-4.
  4. ^ a b Cornish D, Dukette D (2009). The Essential 20: Twenty Components of an Excellent Health Care Team. Pittsburgh, PA: RoseDog Books. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-1-4349-9555-1. OCLC 721335045.
  5. ^ Simon, Alexander J.; Gallen, Courtney L.; Ziegler, David A.; Mishra, Jyoti; Marco, Elysa J.; Anguera, Joaquin A.; Gazzaley, Adam (2023). "Quantifying attention span across the lifespan". Frontiers in Cognition. 2. doi:10.3389/fcogn.2023.1207428. ISSN 2813-4532. PMC 10621754. PMID 37920687.
  6. ^ Fortenbaugh FC, DeGutis J, Germine L, Wilmer JB, Grosso M, Russo K, Esterman M (September 2015). "Sustained Attention Across the Life Span in a Sample of 10,000: Dissociating Ability and Strategy". Psychological Science. 26 (9): 1497–1510. doi:10.1177/0956797615594896. PMC 4567490. PMID 26253551.
  7. ^ a b c Banhatti R (2004). "Attention and Mental Health". In Dwivedi KN, Harper PB (eds.). Promoting The Emotional Well-being of Children and Adolescents and Preventing Their Mental Ill Health: A Handbook. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 87–92. ISBN 978-1-84310-153-6. OCLC 54906900.
  8. ^ Wilson RS, Brown AM, Matheny AP (November 1971). "Emergence and persistence of behavioral differences in twins". Child Development. 42 (5): 1381–1398. doi:10.2307/1127905. JSTOR 1127905. PMID 5167837.
  9. ^ Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, DiGiuseppe DL, McCarty CA (April 2004). "Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children". Pediatrics. 113 (4): 708–713. CiteSeerX doi:10.1542/peds.113.4.708. PMID 15060216.
  10. ^ "How TV can 'rewire' brains of tiny tots". The Washington Times. 18 April 2004. Retrieved 23 October 2008.
  11. ^ McClelland MM, Acock AC, Piccinin A, Rhea SA, Stallings MC (April 2013). "Relations between Preschool Attention Span-Persistence and Age 25 Educational Outcomes". Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 28 (2): 314–324. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.07.008. PMC 3610761. PMID 23543916.
  12. ^ Batejat, D.; Lagarde, D.; Navelet, Y.; Binder, M. (April 1999). "[Evaluation of the attention span of 10,000 school children 8-11 years of age]". Archives de Pédiatrie. 6 (4): 406–415. doi:10.1016/s0929-693x(99)80222-x. ISSN 0929-693X. PMID 10230480.