UAE: What is 'popcorn brain' and why are experts worried about it?

The constant presence of social media platforms that provide a continuous stream of information are primary drivers behind the phenomenon


Waad Barakat


SM Ayaz Zakir

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File Photo. Image used for illustrative purposes
File Photo. Image used for illustrative purposes

Published: Wed 10 Jul 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jul 2024, 9:57 PM

Have you ever felt like your thoughts are jumping from one task to another, unable to focus on one thing for long? You might be experiencing a phenomenon known as 'popcorn brain'.

Experts are expressing their concern about this emerging issue as a result of our constant access to technology, which has become a necessary part of our everyday lives.

'Popcorn Brain' is a term used to describe the state of hyperactivity and constant craving for new stimuli that many individuals are experiencing.

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Dr Barjis Sulthana, psychiatrist at NMC Specialty Hospital in Al Nahda, Dubai, said: "We are currently seeing a rise in what some call 'popcorn brain' – a colloquial term for a scattered attention style. It's characterised by rapid jumps between thoughts and tasks, much like popcorn kernels popping erratically.”

Dr Sulthana further emphasised that the phenomenon can be associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While both involve attention struggles, the two conditions are different. “ADHD often manifests in childhood, whereas popcorn brain seems more linked to the constant stimulation of modern life. Essentially, popcorn brain reflects a fragmented attention style, likely due to information overload, rather than a core neuro-developmental issue," she explained.

Dr Barjis Sulthana
Dr Barjis Sulthana

Contributing Factors

According to Dr Rajesh Chaudhary, neurology specialist at Aster Hospital in Sharjah, the primary drivers behind popcorn brain include the constant presence of smartphones, social media platforms, and other digital devices that provide a continuous stream of information and notifications. "The vast amount of data available online can overwhelm our cognitive capacities, leading to challenges in processing and retaining information," said Dr Chaudhary.

The fast-paced lifestyle and the pressure to stay constantly connected can exacerbate the issue. "The expectation to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, often driven by professional and social pressures, contributes to this fragmented attention," he explained.

Dr Rajesh Chaudhary
Dr Rajesh Chaudhary

Dr Chaudhary also warned of the long-term implications of popcorn brain, both for individuals and society in general. "Reduced productivity, increased risk of mental health issues like anxiety and stress, and potential declines in academic performance are among the individual-level impacts," he added.

However, on a societal level, Dr Sulthana said that "a population with fragmented attention spans could struggle with critical thinking, deep learning, and innovation. Educational systems that rely on focused learning might see a decrease in overall achievement.” She also highlighted that the inability to truly connect with information or people due to constant mental flitting could lead to increased social isolation and a decline in empathy.

Experts' recommendation

Addressing this phenomenon requires a variety of approaches. Experts recommend digital detox, mindfulness and meditation practices, and cognitive-behavioural therapy to help individuals regain control over their attention spans. "Time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro method, can also be effective in enhancing focus and productivity," suggested Dr Chaudhary.

Dr Sulthana added: "Try to train the brain to resist distractions and be present in the moment, enhancing focus. Tech management, such as limiting screen time, using distraction-blocking apps, and creating tech-free zones, are crucial for retraining the brain to concentrate."


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