Are You Struggling With ‘Popcorn Brain’?

Have you ever felt like your brain is constantly ‘popping’ with thoughts, ideas, and distractions? You’re not alone!

David Levy, a professor at the University of Washington coined the term in a 2011 research study he led looking into the impact of technology on the average human attention span. ‘Popcorn brain’ refers to the way we have become so focused on electronic multi-tasking that other activities are of less interest. One study determined that since 2004 the average attention span has decreased from two and a half minutes to around forty-seven seconds!

What causes popcorn brain?

Current research claims that there are multiple reasons why many people suffer from a shorter attention span. First, we are constantly receiving notifications from more than one app. One minute we are checking our email, only to receive a notification from Instagram, then another from Snapchat. The cycle of notifications overwhelms our brain and makes it hard to focus on one thing at a time.

Research also supports that the notifications we receive and the short clips we watch give us little boosts of dopamine. Dopamine is also known as the “feel good” hormone and is connected with impulse control. Many social media apps are using an ‘endless scrolling’ design making it very easy to lose track of time. When paired together these elements of social media use normalize switching between thoughts and tasks rapidly.

The good news is there are ways to increase your attention span and break your media multi-tasking habits!

One way to do this is to limit your screen time manually, using the instructions found here. Limiting screen time allows you to spend more time focusing on other tasks. Another option for iPhone users is setting up ‘focus’ modes. You can create a focus mode for any occasion where you need or want to limit notifications. Using this feature you can limit notifications from both media apps and iMessages.

Another option is using the Pomodoro Technique. When focusing on a task, set a timer for some time. While the timer is running, try to focus on nothing but your task. Once your timer finishes, take a break! If you focus for more time, give yourself a longer break. When focusing for less time, give yourself a short break. If you know you work well on a reward system, try an app like the Focus app. Focus is a timer that plants a virtual tree for any amount of time you are off your phone.

While struggling to focus is very common, it could also be a sign of a bigger issue. If struggling to to impact your ability to function, or causes an increase in anxiety, a counselor can help! A mental health professional can help you create task-management plans, understand your attention habits, and engage in activities offline.

Do you struggle with focusing on one task at a time? What are some strategies you use to help you stay on track?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply