In 2015, a team of researchers from the Consumer Insights team at Microsoft Canada published a report on attention spans. In it, they claimed that the attention span of the average American was only eight seconds—less than that of a goldfish.
Their findings upset some and baffled others. The factoid quickly took root on the web and spread like wildfire, convincing many people that, when it comes to our attention spans, Americans are outclassed by goldfish.
Except, that’s not true.
In 2017, the BBC helped debunk the goldfish myth, alleging Microsoft’s claims were based on “unreliable data.” (The prospect we could measure their attention spans in the first place now seems like a nonstarter)
But the fact that the goldfish argument seemed plausible to so many should be cause for concern. The whole incident served to highlight our limited understanding of how our brains actually work—especially in relation to focus and attention.
Can we improve our attention spans?
How does focus affect attention spans? Is it quantifiable? Is it something we are conscious of or does it just “happen”, and if we can control it, can we also improve it?
These were the types of questions Jake Stauch was trying to answer while studying neuroscience at Duke University, where people often asked him how his work could help individuals improve the way their brains work.
“Many were looking for alternatives or complements to medications, while others simply wanted to improve their daily lives with greater focus and self-control,” says Stauch.
After graduating, Stauch founded NeuroPlus, a company devoted to improving focus and attention through brain training. “This company grew out of those conversations.”
Stauch and his team made it their mission to develop a product that was “engaging and fun to use,” while also boosting users’ cognitive abilities.
How does it work?
The NeuroPlus consists of two primary components: the headset and the game app.
The headset is the physical element of NeuroPlus. It fits over your head like a pair of over-the-ear headphones but without the ear speakers.
The squid-like appendage at the top of the headset is an electrode that monitors brain activity and provides feedback in real time during game-play.
Each time you open a new game you’ll be prompted to take a daily assessment test, regardless of which game you open up. The assessment is designed to gauge users’ baseline focus levels at the beginning of each session.
That way, the game can modify its difficulty level to be just challenging enough for users to benefit from each session’s training (the way a bodybuilder might challenge herself by stacking more weight on a barbell each time she works out).
The NeuroPlus uses a three-pronged approach to exercise the brain and train vital cognitive skills. This includes neurofeedback, biofeedback, and go/no-go cognitive training.
The neurofeedback system is in charge of measuring brain activity. The electrode in the headband detects certain brainwave patterns, specifically, it measures a brainwave output known as thetheta/beta ratio—a biomarker associated with focus and attention.
That information is then sent back to the game app using Bluetooth and provides feedback on users’ focus levels throughout the game. The purpose of neurofeedback is to help users learn to control and strengthen their focus levels over time.
Additionally, the NeuroPlus monitors biofeedback—heart function, breathing, jaw clenching, facial tension, etc.—in order to help regulate adverse behaviors, like fidgeting, that interfere with body stillness and calmness.
While stillness and calmness are vital aspects of focus and require a level of self-awareness, fidgeting and squirming are often behaviors we unwittingly engage in and are signs of an agitated mind. Fortunately, NeuroPlus alerts you if you get too squirmy, so you can make a conscious effort to relax.
Go/no-go training is designed to improve attention and impulse control by prompting users to respond to stimuli while also ignoring distractions.
This type of training challenges users’ reaction time, working memory, and multitasking skills.
Think about the last time you drove through a busy intersection or maneuvered through a crowded room. The ability to react quickly in chaotic environments like these can bolster your ability to stay in control and out of trouble.
Training and Progress
NeuroPlus recommends practicing 60 to 90 minutes per week split into 20 to 30-minute sessions. At this pace, NeuroPlus claims users can experience noticeable changes in as few as four weeks.
Like any other training regimen, the longer you stick with it, the better results you’ll get.
You can also monitor and track your progress on the NeuroPlus website and compare your stats with other users.
Games and gameplay
There are currently three NeuroPlus games available for download. While each game is unique, they are all designed to train the same areas of focus. In other words, you’re not sacrificing valuable training by committing to only one game.
There are several factors that set NeuroPlus’s games apart from traditional video games, but here I’ll mention just the two most notable.
Firstly, there are no external controls: youarethe control. Some games will require you to tilt your phone or occasionally tap the screen, but for the most part, the success of your gameplay hinges on your ability to remain still, calm, and focused.
Secondly, while there are certainly objectives to complete in game, there are no levels, no final bosses, and no “beating” the game.
That’s right, if you’re expecting to beat the game, receive a trophy, and watch the end credits roll, you haven’t been paying attention. Let me explain.
It’s training, after all, and just like you don’t “win” a workout at the gym, you don’t win or beat a workout with NeuroPlus.
That’s because the games are not designed to be “beaten.” In fact,each time you make progress, the games become slightly more difficult, ensuring you get a just-challenging-enough workout.
Despite some early frustrations (and almost chucking my phone out the window), I had a blast with the NeuroPlus.
The best advice I can give? Stick with it. You’ll be required to flex parts of your brain you didn’t even realize existed and you will be challenged.
But that’s the point. Better brains don’t make themselves.
It’s time to take your brain game to the next level!
If you’re ready to invest in a better brain or want to learn more about the NeuroPlus, make sure to visit their homepage.