Students scroll through social media on campus. Studies have found that the use of technology and social media can shorten attention spans and increase mental health issues. 

The college atmosphere immerses students in technology. Society expects students to consistently be up to date on online assignments, projects and information assigned via the internet.

Microsoft conducted a study on how the brain adapts to its environment, and specifically, how technology can influence attention spans. 

The company focused on three different types of attention spans to get a clear representation of the average attention span: sustained, which is prolonged focus during repetitive activities, selective, which avoids any distractions, and alternating, which shows the shifting of one’s attention between tasks.

Through the study, researchers have a clearer picture of prolonged attention, along with shifting attention and how people avoid distractions.

Research found over three-fourths of college-aged students participating in the study use their phone out of boredom and use other forms of technology while watching TV. That raises the question of how these habits are affecting college students with constant focus on technology.

Research shows there may be a correlation between social media and health issues, said Breeanne Carter, Pat Walker Health Center assistant director for marketing and communications.

Limiting social media even for a short period of time tends to be helpful to those who struggle with ADHD and depression because of excessive use of social media and technology, Carter said.

“I think it has weakened my attention span because I feel as though my depression soars through the roof when I am on my phone for hours on end and not taking breaks,” junior Ashton Kincade said. “I feel like we as a generation are so glued to our phones that we have forgotten how to have a normal conversation. I feel like it is the cause of the rise of depression within the nation.”

Kincade’s use of social media jades her view of people she sees on social media and changes the way she interacts with them in person, she said. She finds herself being more closed off when dealing with other people.

Social media drains users of the ability to allocate attention, connect on an emotional level with the content provided and process what the post is showing the viewer, according to the study.

“It is recognized that completely removing social media and technology from your life can be difficult,” Carter said. “An advantage of limiting social media use is that it can encourage people to interact with fellow humans rather than staring at their phones.”

Brains are rewired to absorb this rapid-fire information found in technology such as social media and streaming services, Microsoft research team representative Danah Boyd said in the report. 

“I get stuck in a rut of scrolling for hours through things like TikTok,” sophomore Kate Fields said. “When I go to complete a task that takes longer than a few seconds, I can’t make myself do it because I no longer have the patience to achieve the task.”

Fields thinks social media is an easy distraction from other issues that may be more important, she said. Technology has affected her attention span in a negative way because she has ADHD.

Boyd thinks the shift in society’s attention span from 12 seconds to eight will be useful in some ways, she said. For marketing techniques, the companies will have to shift their ads to compliment the changing of attention in society by making more creative and immersive marketing techniques.

PWHC officials recommend anyone dealing with any mental health concerns contact Counseling and Psychological Services at 479-575-5276 to make an appointment with any of the clinicians available. CAPS also offers 24/7 service to the UA community in need of assistance.

CAPS has “Let’s Talk” sessions during the fall semester from 1:15-2:45 p.m. Wednesdays. Consultants will be available to speak with any students with questions about the program at the Student Success Center from 10:15-11:45 a.m. Mondays.

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