How can your attention impact your life and can you change it?
Tuesday, July 17, 2018 - 20:30

If you’ve ever wondered about how long (or short) your attention span is, or perhaps even worried that there’s something seriously wrong with your ability to pay attention – you’re not alone. 

Insight guest Leanne became concerned about her attention span when she caught up with an old friend over lunch, but couldn’t stop checking her phone and thinking about what else she could be doing – like scrolling through her Facebook. 

At home, she says she gets distracted by something as trivial as a bad smell, or the noise of someone mowing the lawn. It can take her off task and take up her attention for the entire day.

“My concern is: [is] the way my brain is working normal in comparison to others?”

This week on Insight, Leanne’s attention is tested and the findings surprise her.

And guest host Janice Petersen asks the “5 billion dollar question,” as neuroscientist, Associate Professor Paul Dux puts it – can we train, and even increase our attention spans? And how do you do it?

Janice Petersen asks our guests: when the stakes are as high as a plane full of people, or a life on the operating table – how can that affect your ability to hold attention, and what can happen if you don’t? 

“The worst case is that two aircraft collide and a catastrophic failure in the system occurs,” air traffic controller Tom McRobert says.

For neurosurgeon Nazih Asaad, the consequences can also be fatal and with the trust of the patient in his hands, the potential risks of the surgery can weigh on him in the lead up to the operation.

“The level of attention, when you're scrubbed and operating on somebody, it really has to be undivided,” Nazih says.

AFL player for the GWS Giants Heath Shaw was diagnosed with ADHD when he was a teenager.

He says some of the behaviours have followed him into adulthood and on the field.

“My attention to detail is really good but my attention span is not that great.

Insight asks – what is attention, and how can it impact your life? How do you know if your attention span is normal? And what makes some people better at paying attention than others?


Presenter: Jenny Brockie 

Producer: Amanda Xiberras 

Associate Producer: Maria Nguyen-Emmett 

Cadet: Jessica Washington  


“Like A Rolling Stone” performed by Bob Dylan
Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment
By arrangement with Sony Music Entertainment Australia Pty Ltd