TikTok is shortening our attention spans

How the popular app has influenced our minds



Is TikTok really worth having?

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of TikTok at this point. The social media app captured the attention of millions at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and hasn’t yet let go. One of the most popular apps ever downloaded, the question must be asked: how is TikTok affecting our brains?

Due to the ever-swiping nature of the app, we must be open to the possibility that TikTok is actively crippling our attention span, concentration and even short-term memory. Adding to the problem, it was discovered that the average video length on the app is between 21-34 seconds. Watching videos for hours a day that only span around 20 seconds will have a long-term impact on the attention spans of worldwide TikTok consumers. 

“You’ll just be in this pleasurable dopamine state, carried away,” said Dr. Julie Albright in an interview with Forbes magazine. “It’s almost hypnotic, you’ll keep watching and watching.”

In the interview, Albright explains the connection between social media and slot machines. She says that platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat share the same fundamentally addictive properties as gambling.

“In psychological terms [it’s] called random reinforcement,” Albright said. “It means sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s how these platforms are designed … they’re exactly like a slot machine. Well, the one thing we know is slot machines are addictive. We know there’s a gambling addiction, right? But we don’t often talk about how our devices and these platforms and these apps have these same addictive qualities baked into them.”

“TikTok has definitely shortened my attention span,” junior Richard Feng wrote to the Talon. 

“Now I get extra tired after looking at my screen, and fail to do schoolwork efficiently.” 

On an average day, a Tiktok user spends 95 minutes on the app, considerably more time than other popular social media platforms like Instagram (29 minutes) and Snapchat (28 minutes).

To try and combat the addiction, some users have taken it upon themselves to delete the app. The idea behind the removal is that if the app isn’t on their phone, then they will not be tempted to open it and become distracted. 

“TikTok has influenced my personality in a negative and harmful way. I think that I’m on it way too much and I’ve become part of the societal standard of TikTok,” junior Ava Dermott said. “I wish I deleted it sooner. I deleted it two days ago, however I feel like if I deleted it sooner my mind would’ve been more clear and I would’ve done school work better.”

In many instances, users feel better after deleting the app. Time away from social media has produced better sleep, reduces stress and lowers feelings of depression and anxiety. 

“I deleted it, so I have more free time to go to the gym,” Feng wrote. “I noticed my eyes stopped hurting and I have more free time since I deleted it.”

We have to admit that we love TikTok. For most teens, the app is a fun way to pass the time and watch videos from people who share similar interests. You don’t have to go as far as deleting the app to manage your usage of it (in fact, we don’t think we could ever go that far). However, we do suggest that a mindful approach to the time we spend on social media and awareness about the lasting effects our actions can have on our health is a growing necessity; social media apps will only continue to get better and better at manipulating our dopamine responses to craft an addicted, even completely reliant, user base.