The “popcorn brain”, this silent scourge that eats away at our attention

The “popcorn brain”, this silent scourge that eats away at our attention

Have you ever heard of “popcorn brain”? Behind this playful term hides a worrying reality: the increasing difficulty of our brain to concentrate on a single task due to excessive exposure to screens.

With the advent of digital technology, our brain is put under severe strain. Constantly solicited by a multitude of stimuli, he sometimes struggles to keep up with the frantic pace imposed by the screens. It is in this context that the term “popcorn brain” appeared.

Jumping from one piece of information to another without being able to stay focused…

“Popcorn brain” is a neologism referring to the tendency of our brain to jump from one piece of information to another, without ever settling on just one. Like popcorn kernels popping in all directions, our attention becomes scattered, making it increasingly difficult to concentrate.

This phenomenon is mainly linked to our daily exposure to screens. According to a study by Junior Connect, carried out with more than 4,000 children and adolescents, young French people (13-19 years old) have on average three personal screens. Under-6s even spend six hours a week on the internet, watching videos, talking with loved ones, listening to music or playing video games. Allow nine hours per week for ages 7-12, and nearly 18 hours per week for ages 13 and over.

According to data from the latest Digital Report 2024 from We Are Social and Meltwater, the typical internet user spends an average of 6 hours and 40 minutes online every day, or three minutes more in a year.

47 seconds of attention

This overexposure to screens has harmful consequences on our attention span. A Japanese study published in 2023 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, conducted among 7,097 children, established a link between time spent in front of screens at the age of one and developmental delays, particularly in the areas of communication, gross and fine motor skills, problem solving, and personal and social skills, at ages two and four.

But how can we explain this phenomenon? According to Gloria Mark, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Irvine, California, our brains are constantly seeking rewards. However, screens, with their notifications, their colorful images and their varied content, are an inexhaustible source of gratification. Result: our brain becomes addicted to this constant stimulation and struggles to be satisfied with a less stimulating activity.

I call them ‘attention traps’ because they’re engaging, rewarding… and very easy to fall into! We’ve found that when people go to TikTok and find a hilarious video, they want to stay there because they’re looking for the next hilarious video. And it’s much more rewarding than cleaning or anything else. This is the trap“, explains the professor in an article from the University of California.

This overstimulation has led to a decline in our attention and concentration in recent decades. “My first article on this topic was published in 2004 based on a study conducted in 2003. We found that attention spans on screens averaged two and a half minutes“, she explains. “If we consider all the studies carried out between 2016 and 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, this average rises to 47 seconds, which constitutes a very clear difference“.

A problem that parents are well aware of. 70% of parents of children aged up to 6 years old believe that the use of screens has a strong impact on children’s development, according to an Ifop survey carried out in February 2024 for the Children’s Foundation.