Maybe you’re the kind of person who could enjoy a two-hour-plus movie before the pandemic. But can you now?
Two years into a pandemic that continues to ravage the globe, a potential side effect might be our inability to concentrate on much of anything else — say, like a movie.
It’s unclear whether the COVID era has had a quantifiable effect on our attention spans, though experts say mental exhaustion is widespread.
“COVID led to many people experiencing cognitive overload,” says Crystal Burwell, director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare Atlanta. “Our brains become short-circuited due to being inundated with information our brains are trying to process. The external stimuli and nature of the environment play a major role in attention spans and building emotional resilience to combat COVID fatigue.”
It affects everyone, says Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University.
“This high level of unpredictability has caused people to live with a higher level of agitation, anxiety and worry, which makes it difficult to concentrate and get invested in projects that require our full attention,” Romanoff says.
Many have been itching for shorter versions of entertainment for a while.
“The influx of multiple kinds of entertainment — socials, YouTube videos, user-generated content — means there is more choice than ever for shorter form content,” says Yalda T. Uhls, founding director of UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers.
But not all experts are convinced attention spans are decreasing. Limited studies have shown that young adults have been able to sustain attention the same way as before the pandemic, but those who have had COVID-19 could face cognitive deficits into the recovery phase.
“Even prior to the pandemic, there were conflicting ideas concerning whether our attention spans are actually decreasing or not,” says Keiland Cooper, a cognitive scientist and neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine. ”Our attention is likely variable depending on the task at hand, our mood, environment and a host of other factors. This makes it difficult to study and to find a ‘catchall’ metric to study over time.”
People have also gotten used to binging, piecemealing, pausing and stopping entertainment over the last two years, says Cristel Russell, a marketing professor at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.
If you do want to improve your attention span, Burwell suggests ”therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness and grounding techniques [to] help center our mind and body to be fully present in the moment.”
And if strapping into a two-plus-hour movie still tickles your fancy after the last two years, so be it.
Read more at usatoday.com