Media Multitasking Does Not Come Without Consequences
Using several media types at the same time, like watching TV while surfing on the Internet, has become common practice among many teens. Therefore, a study in Journal of Early Adolescence investigated whether there is link between media multitasking and teens’ mental skills. The study shows that teens who frequently media multitask report having more problems staying focused, controlling inappropriate behavior, and switching efficiently between different tasks. Surprisingly however, when actually performing those tasks in a test, media multitasking was not or even positively related to mental skills.
- Teens who often multitask with media report more problems:
- staying focused;
- controlling inappropriate behavior;
- switching efficiently between different tasks.
- However, when actually performing those mental skills in a test, there appears to be no or even a positive relation between media multitasking and mental skills.
- Parents and caretakers should be aware that teens feel that media multitasking have negative consequences to their mental skills in everyday life.
Is media multitasking linked to teens’ ability to stay focus, control inappropriate behavior, and effectively switch between tasks?
523 11- to 15-year-olds (mean age: 13 years; 52% were boys)
Teens filled out an online survey in class about their media use and media multitasking behavior. They also filled out questions about their mental skills in everyday life. In addition, teens did a series of computer-based tasks, which assessed three types of mental skills: ability to stay focused (working memory), controlling inappropriate behavior (inhibition), and effectively switch between tasks (shifting)
Facts and findings
- Teens who media multitasked frequently reported having more problems staying focused, controlling inappropriate behavior, and switching effectively between tasks.
- In contrast to their self-reported mental skills, teens who media multitasked frequently did not perform worse on the computer-based tasks of working memory and shifting.
- Teens who often in engaged in media multitasking were even better in ignoring irrelevant distractions during the computer-based tasks than teens who did not multitask that often.
- The researchers gave the following explanation for the discrepancy between the questionnaire and mental tasks: both measures assessed mental skills on a very different level. In the questions mental skills was measured on an everyday life aspects (e.g., having problems waiting for your turn), while mental tasks assessed the underlying mechanisms of mental skills (e.g., ignoring irrelevant distractions during the task).