I want to suggest that phenomena that relates to your person and identity, things that you find peculiar or interesting, things that aggravate you and things that you despise, will entertain your attention span longer than other kinds of phenomena. Perhaps it isn’t just the length of the attention span but how deeply (thoroughly?) we embed the information in our brains and how much wiring our brain devotes to a specific piece or collection of data.
The length of one’s attention span seems also to be important because if you can have a longer attention span for a particular area of knowledge, you will be able to encode and store more of the information about the topic; this results in enhanced memory retrieval.
Furthermore, it seems that anything that evokes a fiery emotional response will also form a more trenchant, recallable memory. One of the problems for developing a better memory in other domains of knowledge (that are entirely new) may be that instead of generating an emotional response, they elicit an indifferent response. If you find an area of knowledge, say, politics, to “boil your blood” you probably have a better grasp on this subject than someone who has more of a flat, indifferent response to the subject.
Perhaps the material you are learning bores you or doesn’t pique your interest or excite your thought processes enough to establish focus. This past quarter I’ve experienced just that. As I reflect on the current subject matter, I see that it doesn’t interest me and it doesn’t relate to any experiences I’ve ever had so my focus and memory (and thus learning) capacity is negatively impacted. Passing the class matters—and so far, I’m doing that, but for me, longer-term retention is always the ultimate goal
If only there could be a method (or pill) to make us more interested (or more emotionally affected or rewarded?) by a subject so that focus and memory were better played out.