Popcorn Brain: Has Social Media Wrecked Our Attention Spans?
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Popcorn Brain: Has Social Media Wrecked Our Attention Spans?

Struggling to concentrate? It might be a case of popcorn brain

Spend hours scrolling on social media but can’t seem to focus when it’s time to get things done? You’re not alone. The ‘popcorn brain’ theory suggests that the digital world really is changing our brains. Here’s how.

What Is Popcorn Brain?

Close-up shot of popcorn

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You might have shut down every browser window on your laptop and turned off your phone, but there are likely still a hundred mental tabs open in your brain. This is the reality of the digital age, when we’re so accustomed to being bombarded with information that we find it difficult to focus. 

Yet it turns out that this isn’t just a familiar feeling – it’s a real psychological phenomenon. Researcher David M Levy coined the term ‘popcorn brain’ in 2011 as a metaphor for the overstimulation caused by technology. Just like a bowl full of bouncing popcorn kernels, our brains are overrun by shreds of information all vying for attention. This can cause stress and restlessness as we slip into a state of constant distraction.

The popcorn brain theory suggests that, after so much exposure to technology, our minds have begun to mimic its fast-paced, ever-changing nature. As we’re overwhelmed by endless notifications, news headlines and social media updates, our brains are working harder than ever before, our attention shifting from one thing to the next.

While it’s a scary thing to consider, it isn’t surprising – plenty of studies have shown that technology is seriously impacting concentration

What Are The Symptoms?

As you might expect, spending extended amounts of time online can cause plenty of experiences aligning with the popcorn brain theory. Alongside the obvious symptom – a shorter attention span – these include:

  • Difficulty with time management and prioritising tasks
  • Feelings of aimlessness or boredom when not engaged in social media
  • A perpetual need for mental stimulation 

How To Alleviate Popcorn Brain

If your brain does, in fact, feel like it’s full of popcorn kernels that just can’t stop jumping around, it’s best to reduce your screen time (although that’s certainly easier said than done). 

Calming activities like mindfulness, meditation and gentle exercise will help to (slowly) curb a tech addiction and allow you focus for longer periods, without the need for constant digital stimulation.