What is 'popcorn brain'? Social media could be ruining our attention span

What is 'popcorn brain'? Social media could be ruining our attention span

Experts are warning of a new medical issue caused by excessive scrolling on social media.

The issue has been dubbed “popcorn brain,” a term used to describe the shifting attention of social media users.

study published in Nature Communications in 2019, revealed that people’s collective attention spans are becoming increasingly shorter, due to the rapid consumption of social media.

What does ‘popcorn brain’ mean?

Popcorn brain refers to the tendency for our attention to shift and jump from one thing to another quickly, just like the kernels in a popcorn bag whizzing inside. It’s a  phenomenon in the psychology world, first coined by iSchool researcher David Levy in 2011.

The term best highlights the impact of constant scrolling in the digital age and how it can lead to challenges with attention.

Dr Daniel Glazer told Metro: “Popcorn brain refers to the tendency for our attention and focus to jump quickly from one thing to another, like popping corn kernels.

“This conditions our brains to get accustomed to and expect frequent distractions and immediate gratification.

“As a result, activities requiring sustained concentration like reading, work projects, or in-person conversations become more difficult.”

Popcorn brain symptoms

Although not an official medical condition, it describes a pattern of behaviour which induces dopamine (the reward chemical) in the brain. Popcorn brain refers to a number of symptoms, including:

  • Reduced attention span

  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks for extended periods

  • A constant need for stimulation

  • Restlessness when not engaged with digital media

  • Challenges in managing time effectively due to frequent distractions

Why do some believe it has worsened?

Some people have been expressing concern that this condition is becoming more present in people as social media becomes more fast-paced, with its constant streams of information and algorithms tailored to keep you scrolling.

Platforms like TikTok, which convey bite-sized information through short clips, are reportedly causing attention-retention problems, making it harder to focus.

According to research by psychologist, Gloria Mark, over the past two decades, the average attention span declined to around 47 seconds.

Are there ways to improve attention span?

There are some things you can do to remedy the issue and help return your attention span to normal. Some of these things include, limiting social media use and swapping it for a less overstimulating task, meditating or exercising, taking regular breaks, and quitting multi-tasking so you can focus on one thing at a time.