Does Media Multitasking Increase Youth Distractibility?

New research has formed a partial connection between media multitasking and distractibility in youth.

According to a study performed by doctoral student Mona Moisala at the University of Helsinki, media multitasking is related to struggling to pay attention. The operative word here is related, as her research hasn’t made a clear connection yet.

Moisala used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain activity as they performed a variety of tasks.

Participants aged 13 to 24, who said they tend to use several media simultaneously during their free time, struggled with attention-related tasks. However, it wasn’t clear whether such multitasking caused the distractibility, or if it was the other way around.

“The results demonstrated that during division of attention between listening and reading, competition for neural resources in regions shared by these tasks was a major factor limiting the performance,” said Moisala.

However, Moisala’s research also found that participants who reported that they played video games daily showed enhanced working memory function and better reaction times. They also had an easier time when switching between visual and auditory attention. This might lead us to think that media multitasking might be influenced by distractibility, since video gaming seems to improve some abilities.

Moisala repeated the laboratory tasks two years later to gather data for follow-up research.

This is not the first time the cognitive benefits of gaming have been demonstrated in research. “Taken together, the results from these studies are of great importance, since it is vital to understand how the increasing amount of on-screen time might affect or interact with the cognitive and brain functioning of the current youth,” said Moisala.

While the study doesn’t definitively answer the questions it asked, it does provide more information, which researchers can use in the future to further study such issues. As screens and digital media become ever more present in our lives, it’s important to understand how this technology interacts with our cognitive functions.

“This data is exceptionally extensive and provides us with the possibility to investigate the effects of technology use on the developing brain,” Moisala said.

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