New study indicates age plays a key role in the relationship between multitasking technology and cognition

As technology has become more popular, multitasking has greatly increased. These days, people use their smartphones for a multitude of purposes while also engaging with the world around them – but can we really focus on all of that at once? A study published in Scientific Reports seeks to investigate how media multitasking is related to multitasking ability.

As smart phones grow in popularity, it has become more and more common to spend time on many different social media platforms. This has led to “media multitasking”, which is the concept of interacting with multiple streams of information while also participating in other events. Young Americans use technology for approximately 10 hours a day, which means that much of their time is spent multitasking on media.

Multitasking has generally been shown to use significant cognitive skills, making performance less strong when a person is trying to do multiple things at once. Because of this, there have been concerns that media multitasking is negative, affecting young people’s cognitive abilities. This study seeks to explore this relationship.

Study author Natasha Matthews and colleagues recruited 1,511 participants who visited the National Science and Technology Center in Australia. Participants were aged between 7 and 70 years. Data was collected as a “supervised exposure” that included six workstations. Participants completed demographic questions, a technology multitasking survey, and a cognitive multitasking test that included three tasks. All aspects of this study were completed on a digital tablet.

Results showed that higher levels of media multitasking were related to better multitasking skills. But this relationship existed only in participants from children to young adults, ages 7 to 29. There was a higher cost for media multitasking in older participants.

“Interestingly, in our data, the sign of the relationship between multitasking costs and multimedia use also changes with age from positive in young participants to negative in older participants, suggesting that the demographic composition of the groups of participants may have significantly influenced the outcome. pattern of results observed in previous studies,” the researchers said.

While this may be due to young people’s constant media consumption “training” their minds to multitask more effectively, the study authors suggest it is more likely due to a parallel relationship in which while young people are honing their skills multitasking and cognitive functioning, they are also increasingly using and consuming media.

“At the same time that multitasking skills are being established, children are dedicating more of their newfound skills to the various digital technologies at their disposal,” they explained.

This study took important steps to better understand media cognitive and multitasking ability. Despite that, it has some limitations. One of these limitations is that the researchers used a sample of people who attend a science center, which may skew towards people with better cognitive abilities. Furthermore, this sample was recruited in a city in Australia; future research could include a more diverse sample.

The study, “Media Multitasking and Lifetime Cognitive Control,” was authored by Natasha Matthews, JB Mattingley, and PE Dux.

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