TikTok and its influence on sustained attention

Brevity is the key! TikTok allows you to create very short clips, often even lasting only a few seconds. In a SCHUFRIED Research Support project, the attention performance of TikTok users was tested.

In 2018, a new social media app named TikTok began to make waves. The platform was initially known for very short music and dance videos each user can post and share. Since then, the range of topics has expanded considerably. TikTok content now covers everything from fashion and lifestyle to comedy and even political campaigns.

TikTok’s main characteristic, however, remains that the videos are all extremely brief, with a complete video clip lasting only 15–60 seconds. According to various studies, the age range of TikTok users (in Germany) is somewhere between approximately 14 and 29 years.

As part of a seminar project, a student at the Technical University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt has now studied whether attention performance decreases with regular viewing of such short videos. To conduct her study, she used a SCHUHFRIED attention and concentration test. Access was made possible by SCHUHFRIED Research Support – a program that provides researchers with the digital testing they need to complete their work, for example as part of dissertation research or independent research projects.

Test of sustained attention:

The specific research question was whether there were differences in sustained attention between people who regularly used TikTok and people who did not use the app at all.

After initial data were gathered, the participants, all of whom were young adults, were grouped into two cohorts: those who used TikTok and watched video clips on the platform every day and a comparison group of “TikTok non-users.”

For her assessment, the student used The Attention and Concentration Test TACO. This browser-based test from the Vienna Test System (VTS) can be flexibly administered on any mobile device (computer, tablet or smartphone) in full-screen mode. It shows the participants simple geometric shapes that must be identified and marked in the figure below. The respondents are given 6 seconds to solve each item.


The overall results showed no significant difference between the results of the target and control groups, with 30 respondents each. However, the number of false alarms (sum of incorrectly marked stimuli) and missed reactions (sum of incorrectly unmarked stimuli) was tabulated as well.

The number of“missed reactions” was significantly higher among the group of TikTok users than in the comparison group. In other words, TikTok users found it more difficult to identify and mark all the relevant stimuli within the allotted time.

While the number or respondents is too low to draw robust conclusions from these current results, further research might perform attention testing on a larger sample, as well as controlling for different lengths of using the app. Reaction, decision-making and processing speeds of TikTok users in comparison with non-users might also be studied.




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