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When I study, I like to do it in blocks of a few hours, with little rests in between. I have heard from multiple (possibly unreliable) sources, however, that a human's concentration will drastically drop after 45 minutes.

I find it doubtful that this limit should be the same for all humans. If there is a limit, I find it doubtful, to be so low, since there are people with jobs that require much more concentration than that (also, exams usually last longer than that, requiring people to concentrate for a few hours straight). I also doubt that this limit can't be improved by exercising your brain regularly or possibly by some sort of meditation. My question is therefore: Is there any research behind this claim?


A google search quickly reveals the ubiquity of this claim, so I suspect it falls in the category of "common psychological wisdom":

On Yahoo! Answers the chosen answer advocates partitioning your studying time into intervals of 45 minutes.

"Don't try to work for 10 hours straight. Schedule 45 minute blocks with 15 minute breaks. Decide what you are going to accomplish during those 45 minutes, and record what you have done."

But this claim from the same source (user JAMES) is even more interesting:

"Hey friend,,, i wanna tell you a fact,,, that it is scientifically proved that human brain can concentrate on one thing only for 40 - 45 minutes (not more than that,,,, it is the maximum limit)...."

On wikiHow's How to Finish Your Homework we find the same claim (see Tips):

"Your homework may take several hours to complete. You must take a 10-15 minute break every 45 minutes. Your brain can only concentrate for 45 minutes."

On WebAnswers, again (user Leandraluv):

"Right, get back to your checklist and start studying. Take a break every 45 minutes to one hour or so to get some water and take a little walk. It makes no sense if you keep going for three hours straight .. after some time you won't absorb any information."

Another example:

"Continuous studying is not a recommended habit as brain needs rest in every 40-45 minutes thus make sure you give yourself breaks while studying. A 15 min break for a 45 minute continuous learning is enough."


I realize none of these sources are very reliable, but I'd say this is strong evidence of the claim being completely ingrained into the collective consciousness of our society.

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    yet there are reports of WoW players spending days at a time raiding, I'd say it has to do with interest levels: if you are more interested you will focus on it longer, but if you hate it you will subconsciously look for a way out – ratchet freak Mar 22 '12 at 17:36
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    Research on college students suggest that their concentration on a undifferentiated lecture begins to lag after roughly 15 minutes. Studies in Physics Education Research suggest that demos and clicker quizzes can re-set the clock, so the current fashion is for roughly ten minutes of lecture between activities. All of which suggest that "concentrate" may not be terribly well defined here. – dmckee Mar 22 '12 at 20:47
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    It depends on the amount of concentration required due to cognitive load and presence of distractors, complexity of the task, ability, perceived competence, and initial emotional state. Optimal state motivation, or flow, enables people to forget about time well beyond 45 minutes and perform at a constant rate. The concept of flow has been well studied by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. – user6843 Apr 20 '12 at 15:07
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    @ratchetfreak being an experienced WoW player I can say that the time spent "raiding" doesn't require concentration the entire time, its often broken up into periods requiring concentration for 10 mins or less – Ryathal Jul 11 '12 at 16:57
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    Its a statistical answer... most people's attention span (full attention) is roughly their age plus a few minutes (thats why kids get bored easily) however if they are interested in the subject or are particularly good at focusing or the subject changes often in its method of teaching then it can be longer or if the task is repulsive it can be shorter... its hard to do studies – David McGowan Sep 28 '12 at 20:33
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You'll find some information in the Wikipedia article "Attention span". But really, why do you think that "concentration" is an on/off state of mind? Some people can read a book and barely remember that they've even read it (if it's uninteresting); someone playing a computer game can be "on" for hours.

If "concentration" were an on/off state, then there would be a lot of experimenting with how to extend it. But it's not: see, for example, this study.

As for "since there are people with jobs that require much more concentration than [45 minutes] (also, exams usually last longer than that, requiring people to concentrate for a few hours straight)", no job - or exam - prevents someone from finishing a small task (say, responding to an email or answering a question) and then relaxing for 30 seconds or so (no concentration whatsoever) before continuing on.

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Here is an article with a summary and links to various research into student learning attention factors while learning. https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/30-tricks-for-capturing-students-attention/
Not quite the same as how long to study for - but relevant.

If the objective is to improve learning outcomes, there are several things that can be done. The article is focussed on delivery of learning materials (for lecturers) - but if we are thinking about self study, some of these ideas could be adopted:

  • Check your motivation
  • Keep it multi model - meaning perhaps try listening to recordings alongside of reading. Is there any way to make the learning tactile?
  • Incorporate free play - possibly meaning play with the ideas being studied
  • Ensure that the material under study is not too easy or too hard
  • Use narrative - how can the material under study be understood from a narrative point of view - perhaps understand the history
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    Can you summarize the important parts in the answer itself? Right now this is essentially a link-only answer. – Laurel Oct 19 '18 at 0:48

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