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What Is Limited Attention?

Many personal factors can strongly influence the length of one's attention span.
Some people find it hard to stay attentive in class.
Checking a cell phone frequently limits a person's attention.
Article Details
  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Attention spans are a commonly examined human trait, and are frequently criticized, especially in school-aged children. Some people seem to have short or limited attention spans, while others can give their full attention and focus easily. It is often the relationship between the object of attention and the one giving the attention that determines the length of attention spans. When information that is deemed important is being shared, limited attention is considered an undesirable trait. Simply put, a limited or short attention span implies an inability to focus on something for very long.

The length of attention span may be a detriment to educational achievement and it may also interfere with productivity at work. While the ideal attention span would seemingly be unlimited, shortened attention spans or the inability to focus are often criticized. For instance, in an educational setting limited attention is considered to be a direct interference with the learning process and is often labeled as a learning disability. Many children suffer from limited attention or inability to focus, but it is not necessarily a deficiency.

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There are some researchers and social experts who argue that limited attention may simply be a direct result of living in the information age. The flow of information in a world where technology makes information instantly and always available may result in information overload. When people put themselves inside the flow of information, they pause only long enough to pay attention to those things that are of interest to them and do not necessarily have to seek out new interests. As a result, people find it more challenging to allow their attention to focus on any one thing for long.

There is also an argument for what is perceived as limited attention, but is merely a response to a subject that is not deemed interesting by the observer. For example, a child with an interest in and enthusiasm for competition and social interaction may be able to sit through a card or board game with rapt attention, but when asked to color, draw or sculpt has limited attention for the activity. If a child has difficulty focusing on every activity, whether interactive or passive, they may genuinely have an attention deficit.

Many experts consider attention a resource; and a limited one at that. Attention requires time and energy on the part of the individual exerting it. The human mind is only capable of taking in a limited amount of information. Granted, the limit is different for each individual, but few if any people have unlimited attention for a single source of information. If too much focus is given to a particular source, this may be considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Both ends of the attention spectrum, whether minimal or excessive, are typically viewed as unhealthy, but there appears to be no obvious "norm."

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