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TikTok: Attention Span Taker

It is no secret that social media has grown to affect many details and aspects of our everyday lives. There is a world of information available at our fingers that can be accessed with the press of a button. Everything from recipes, mental health issues, music, and online shopping can be researched through apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more. While this is convenient and helpful, it can also take a toll on our mental and physical health without us even knowing it.

TikTok, one of the world’s largest social media apps in both popularity and usage, is not as innocent as it seems. Rising quickly in followers over the past 5 years after debuting in 2016, it has captured the attention of people of all ages from everywhere around the world. Even though this social media platform is a fountain of information and a connection point for millions of strangers online, it can have damaging effects on the human brain if used too often.

Numerous scientific studies have been done to figure out the extent this app has on various brain functions, and the results were not positive. A study done by Nature Communications showed that social media apps like TikTok that are based on short-form content can lower collective attention spans when too much time is spent on them. The study used hashtags as a specific example and found that “producing and consuming more content results in shortening of attention spans for individual topics.” Essentially, material that used to interest users for hours or days at a time now only interests them for a half or even a third of that time. 

Another facet of this issue is the lowering in the age that children start using cell phones and social media apps. The younger a child is when they start being exposed to these apps, the more damaging the effects are on the brain as it is maturing. Dr. Micheal Manos, clinical director of the Center for Attention and Learning at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, stated that “‘if kids’ brains become accustomed to constant changes, the brain finds it difficult to adapt to no digital activity where things don’t move quite as fast.’” In other words, spending extended amounts of time on these apps, especially TikTok, can severely reduce attention span and long-term decision making skills. 

TikTok’s short video format aids in the reduction of attention span. The videos, ranging from 15 seconds to 3 minutes long, are the ideal length between capturing our attention for a short period of time and leaving us wanting more whenever they are over. Due to this constant desire for more enticing videos, users keep scrolling through for hours at a time without even realizing it. In an article featured on Hillsdale Collegian pertaining to this topic, a study done by Microsoft is referenced in discovering that “the average human attention span is now less than 8 seconds.” This shows that even brief videos on TikTok will soon prove to be too long, as the continued usage of social media apps like it cause destruction to our brains’ natural functioning. 

Social Media apps like TikTok and Instagram are not necessarily evil or harmful by nature, but the overuse of them can cause deficits in attention span and interest in non-digital activities. So, next time you find yourself scrolling mindlessly through one of these platforms, try setting a daily time limit on different apps and allot that extra time to non-digital habits like reading or spending time with friends. Small lifestyle changes like decreasing your screen time for even 15 minutes a day can help restore your attention span and help your brain perform the way it is supposed to.

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