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“Have you ever found yourself flitting from one task to another, struggling to focus on a single thing for more than a few minutes? If so, you might have a ‘popcorn brain’. Coined by researcher David Levy, popcorn brain is a metaphor for the way our brains jump from one piece of information to another, much like popcorn kernels popping unpredictably in a pan. While the phenomenon was first noticed in 2011, it is back in the spotlight and gaining traction on social media like never before, thanks to London-based clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Glazer’s viral TikTok videos on the topic.

While the phenomenon was first noticed in 2011, it is back in the spotlight and gaining traction on social media like never before, thanks to London-based clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Glazer’s viral TikTok videos on the topic.

DWINDLING ATTENTION SPAN

Over the last few years, excessive social media usage, browsing, and mindless scrolling on your phone—also called doomscrolling—has had a profound impact on our attention span. The constant stream of updates, likes, and comments on social media result in an addictive loop, offering immediate gratification and a fleeting dopamine release. The shift from long-form content such as YouTube videos and IGTV to bite-sized media like Reels and Shorts has been accompanied by a rapidly shrinking attention span.

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For Nikita Chawla, a 32-year-old writer from Gurgaon, having popcorn brain has started to impact her work: “As a creative person, I need peace, but it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the information overload. I catch myself not being able to focus on one thing. I have to remind myself to get back on track.”

THE GLOSSY POSSE

Why go for something matte when you can have some fun? Singer Britney Spears took on the glossy lips trend by pairing smoky eye makeup with lip gloss in several of her music videos including Baby One More Time (1999). Today, several actors are keeping the trend alive with their own modern takes on it, including Bhumi Pednekar.

With endless pings and updates, social media platforms are designed to capture user attention, fostering a cycle of constant distractions. – Mehezabin Dordi, Clinical Psychologist

Turn off notifications on your devices to limit screen time, especially before you go to bed, to get proper sleep.

Information overload. I catch myself not being able to focus on one thing. I have to remind myself to get back on track.”

Sejal Bhatt, a 27-year-old sales manager from Noida, finds herself struggling to focus on one thing. “My brain is like a browser tab — it can only process one thing at a time, and even then, it’s constantly refreshed. I miss important information and easily lose conversations,” she tells us.

Chawla and Bhatt are not alone. According to a May 2023 study by the University of California, Irvine, the “average attention span on any screen before switching to something else decreased from 2.5 minutes in 2004 to 75 seconds in 2012 to 47 seconds now”. “This phenomenon has emerged after 2010,” says clinical psychologist Pulkit Sharma, adding, “The videos and news articles kept getting shorter, and people started quickly shifting from one thing to another.”

AFFECTING THE BRAIN, ONE BITE-SIZED VIDEO AT A TIME

If left unchecked, ‘popcorn brain’ has the potential to not only hinder our ability to concentrate but also significantly impact our social, emotional, and professional well-being. From strained social interactions and diminished emotional well-being to decreased productivity, the inability to focus deeply can permeate various aspects of our lives.

Psychiatrist Dr. Paramjeet Singh shares, “The tendency to jump from one topic to another can lead to fatigue and make you feel irritable, anxious or always on the edge. In children, it can mimic the symptoms of ADHD.”

This also has a direct impact on the way your brain retains new information. “This behavior can lead to a lack of depth in understanding, as individuals may only skim the surface of subjects without delving deeply into any one of them,” explains clinical psychologist Mehezabin Dordi.

Coping with popcorn brain:

Practise mindfulness: Meditation and mindfulness exercises can train your brain to better manage distractions and improve your ability to stay present in the moment. Psychologist Pulkit Sharma shares, “Any activity that makes you focus on your breath can help cope with popcorn brain.”

Limit screen time: Set specific times for checking your phone or using social media, and try to disconnect completely during other periods, especially before bed. Turn off notifications on your devices, turn on the DND mode, remove unnecessary apps or switch to a dumb phone to reconnect with the real world and improve focus.

Embrace single-tasking: While multitasking may seem efficient, it can lead to decreased productivity and poorer quality work. Focus on completing one task at a time and avoid switching between different things frequently.

Engage in activities that require focus: Challenge yourself with puzzles, brain games and things that require sustained attention, like reading or playing an instrument.

Get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation can significantly impair cognitive function, including attention span. Aim for seven-eight hours of quality sleep each night.”

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