EyeTrack07: The Myth of Short Attention Spans

You can’t get much more basic than the lead finding of Poynter’s EyeTrack07 study, presented this morning to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C.

Readers select stories of particular interest and then read them thoroughly.

And there’s a twist: The reading-deep phenomenon is even stronger online than in print.

At a time when readers are assumed to have short attention spans, especially those who read online, this qualifies as news.

That was the predominant behavior of roughly 600 test subjects — 70 percent of whom said they read the news in print or online four times a week. Their eye movements were tracked in 15-minute reading sessions of broadsheet, tabloid and online publications. Evidence from these sessions revealed how long readers spend with the stories they pick, as well as a host of other details about reading patterns.

This first look at EyeTrack07′s headline findings is presented here in four formats:

  • A video produced at Poynter last week, that replicates the presentation Sara Quinn and Pegie Stark Adam gave this morning
  • The slides [PDF] used in this morning’s presentation

The study, which was planned more than a year ago, tested readers in Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and St. Petersburg, Fla., last summer and fall.

But analysis of the readers’ eye movements was just completed recently. The project is still a work in progress. Deeper analysis is ongoing, and more findings are slated to be released later this year.

The application of these initial findings to print and online design is just beginning.

Discussion continues at a major Poynter conference April 10 through 12. That conference is full, but you can still sign up for a hands-on EyeTrack workshop to be held at Poynter in September.

A book with complete results, pictures of the materials test subjects viewed and a full account of how the research was done will be available in June.

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