What Goldfish Do Better Than Humans

This is our goldfish Jerimiah in his Sponge Bob Square Pants-themed habitat. (My youngest daughter Ella is a big fan!)

According to researchers, goldfish like Jerimiah have an attention span of nine seconds—one second longer than that of the average human being!

Pretty crazy, right?

According to a study published in 2015 by Microsoft, human attention spans have dramatically decreased since 2000—approximately the same time cell phone use became prevalent.

Researchers studied the brain activity and behavior of 112 participants as they performed various tasks like web browsing, using social media, and using multiple screens while online.

They interacted with several different types of devices, media and tech including TV, phones, social media, email, and the internet.

They found that in 2000 our average attention span was 12 seconds. And within only 13 years, four seconds were shaved off. In 2013, the average human attention span was only 8 seconds.

And that’s from a study that was published five years ago… These days, with all that’s going on in the world, you might find it even more difficult to stay focused.

Problem solving, decision making, or ability to recall information might all seem harder than normal.

And that’s okay. You’re far from alone in this struggle.

Fortunately, recent research points to an easy, all-natural solution that can help you increase concentration and get back on your game. And it all has to do with music!

Today I’ll reveal which types of music work best for certain tasks. I’ll also share my personal playlist that never fails to help me get in “the zone.”

Different types of attention

Interestingly, the researchers in the Microsoft study point out that “attention” is much more than how long you can concentrate.

It turns out that there are five different types of attention:

  • Focused: Your basic response to things you see, hear, smell, think, and feel.
  • Sustained: Directing focus on an activity or stimulus for an extended period of time.
  • Selective: Selecting and attending your focus to one thing, even when distractions are present.
  • Alternating: Switching your focus and jump from one task to another.
  • Divided: Simultaneously directing focus toward multiple ideas or tasks, at once (or what is also known as multi-tasking).

Knowing what type of attention you want to improve will prove helpful—especially when relying on the powers of music. It’s imperative that you choose the right kind of music for the job.

Increase your focus with music

In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers set out to see if music helps or hurts personal performance.

They assigned the participants tasks with varying levels of difficulty. The participants then completed them in silence or with different types of music which varied in complexity and volume.

They found that more complex music was helpful in simple or repetitive tasks. Elements of complex music include lyrics, many different instruments, melody changes, or fast tempo. They found that this type of music helps break up the monotony or lack of engagement associated with the task, enabling you to stay present and attentive.

But for difficult tasks, they found that this type of complex music generally hurt performance.

Instead, they suggest simple music for challenging tasks that require more mental resources, like memory- or reasoning-based activities. Simple music includes one or two instruments, a slower tempo, and a simple, relaxing melody.

They did note that for very difficult tasks, sometimes no music may be best. They suggest that it really depends on the task.

My personal playlist for mental focus

Personally, I prefer to listen to music while I write—a complex, high-attention activity. It helps me to block out external distractions.

Here’s my personal playlist of go-to tracks for focus. I hope you find it helpful!

Though maintaining attention in our increasingly distracting world can be tough, music can be a powerful partner in helping you get things done and keeping your cognitive abilities sharp for years to come.

Remember, each of us are built and function differently. So what works for one person may not work that well for you.

I challenge you to experiment and see for yourself what type of music (if any at all) helps increase your focus. Just some food (or music) for thought!

P.S. – For even more ways sound can help activate your peak brain abilities, try my Brain Healing Audio Tool Kit! It includes two discs that feature ancient drumming rhythms, designed to synch your brainwaves to activate optimal focus and energy. Click here to learn more or give it a try today!


DeLoach, A. (2015). Tuning the cognitive environment: Sound masking with “natural” sounds in open-plan offices. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 137(4): p. 2291. Retrieved from: asa.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1121/1.4920363

Gonzalez, M. and Aiello, J. (2020). Does Listening to Music Help You Focus? Brain World Magazine. Retrieved from: brainworldmagazine.com/does-listening-to-music-help-you-focus/

Gonzalez, M. and Aiello, J. (2019). More than meets the ear: Investigating how music affects cognitive task performance. APA PsycNet. Retrieved from: doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fxap0000202

Microsoft Canada. (2015). Attention spans. Retrieved from: dl.motamem.org/microsoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf

University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute. (n.d.) Pay Attention!! Attention and Attention Process Training in Brain Injury. BiaMD.org. Retrieved from: biamd.org/uploads/8/5/7/7/85779996/peters_-_apt.pdf

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.