Research into association between media multitasking and memory performance for humans may throw some interesting findings. An understanding of the findings is crucial in the backdrop of media such as smartphones becoming ubiquitous now. Literature on the adverse effect of media multitasking on various areas of cognition abound. However, researchers haven’t been able to reach a definitive association. Having said, a recent review of studies spanning over a decade by a team of two of researchers can intrigue many and set off alarm bells for those people who are habituated to shift between media tasks.
A professor of psychology (Stanford University) and a neuroscientist (University of California) noticed that in about half of these studies, there is a negative correlation of media multitasking and key areas of memory, especially short-term, working memory and cognition.
The review of the research findings, including current findings and future directions, are detailed in a paper published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, on October 2, 2018.
Review rings Alarm Bells for Habitual Multitaskers
In constantly evolving media landscape, people who essentially switch between different media tasks have proliferated. For instance, someone multitasking may be gleaning a thesis, answering mails on Google, chatting on Facebook, and ordering Pizza over the smartphone, by shifting between the tasks in the duration. Though the definitions of a heavy and low multi-tasker are prone to change with time, in several of the studies the authors reviewed, the respondents fared really bad in short-delay memory tasks.
The review does in no way suggest that multitasking per sec is inefficient, but unarguably caution against habitual multitasking.
People who Multitask suffer Lapses in Attention
Scientists used a variety of methods to assess the memory of respondents in the studies. For instance, they were shown geometric figures of different orientation in a series of experiments and were asked to retain the information. In most of the studies, the authors noticed that people who are engaged in multitasking suffer with reduced working memory and less sustained attention. One plausible explanation for these observation can be lapses in attention, stated one of the researchers. Such people showed substantially reduced performance with respect to sustained attention tasks.