“Uh, can you repeat the question?” is a phrase you’ve most likely stuttered, deer-in-the-headlights style, to a teacher who’s caught you daydreaming. I can be hard to pay attention sometimes; as your teacher drones on and on about protons you may find yourself falling deeper and deeper into sleep. If it’s not a subject you’re interested in, you have no motivation to listen, and so it’s not surprising that your thoughts may wander. But is the lack of attention you pay really your fault?
First things first, studies show that it’s normal for your mind to wander. According to Jonathan Schooler of UC, Santa Barbara, your mind is wandering at least 30% of the time when you are doing your normal day-to-day tasks, so you shouldn’t feel bad for daydreaming a little in class – chances are, so is your teacher.
It’s also been found that un-concentrated thought is the natural state for our brains to be in. Malia Mason recorded brain activity in correlation with daydreaming to determine similarities in the brain’s functions when “wandering” and when undergoing other functions. As people reported that their mind was wandering, their brains showed activity in several cortical regions that are the same regions that are active when our brains are “at rest.” This suggests that daydreaming is just a part of how our brain works and may be a way for our minds to relax; although in both this study and the one mentioned above, self-report was the method used and so the results can’t be taken as concrete fact.
So, what causes our minds to wander? A recent study into attention span shows suggests that lack of sleep could be at fault. 1,000 university students took a poll on their attention span and the results showed that the average was just 10 minutes before they began to drift off during a lecture. One third of the participants blamed their lack of attention on being overworked and their subsequent tiredness, supporting Mason’s theory above that daydreaming is a way for our brain to rest.
However, others suggest that our attention spans are actually much longer and that studies such as the one previously mentioned have no real merit. In a 2007 literature review, psychologists Karen Wilson and James H. Korn concluded that the little evidence gathered to support the theory of a 10 minute attention span was superficial and inaccurate. The reason behind this is that measuring attention span is highly difficult, especially when relying on self-report, and while there may be a pattern of decline in student attention during a lecture, the exact length of the average attention span can’t be determined.
Other studies suggest that instead of only being able to concentrate for 10 minutes of a lecture before daydreaming for the rest, we pay attention in spits and starts. According to this study, our attention lapses every couple of minutes.
This theory seems much more believable to me but what’s your opinion on the matter?
How long is your attention span? Take the test here.