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Concept: Media multitasking


The present study examined the relationship between personality and individual differences in multi-tasking ability. Participants enrolled at the University of Utah completed measures of multi-tasking activity, perceived multi-tasking ability, impulsivity, and sensation seeking. In addition, they performed the Operation Span in order to assess their executive control and actual multi-tasking ability. The findings indicate that the persons who are most capable of multi-tasking effectively are not the persons who are most likely to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously. To the contrary, multi-tasking activity as measured by the Media Multitasking Inventory and self-reported cell phone usage while driving were negatively correlated with actual multi-tasking ability. Multi-tasking was positively correlated with participants' perceived ability to multi-task ability which was found to be significantly inflated. Participants with a strong approach orientation and a weak avoidance orientation - high levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking - reported greater multi-tasking behavior. Finally, the findings suggest that people often engage in multi-tasking because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task. Participants with less executive control - low scorers on the Operation Span task and persons high in impulsivity - tended to report higher levels of multi-tasking activity.

Concepts: Psychology, Activity, Multitasking, Media multitasking, Task, Multiplication, Executive functions


Media multitasking, or the concurrent consumption of multiple media forms, is increasingly prevalent in today’s society and has been associated with negative psychosocial and cognitive impacts. Individuals who engage in heavier media-multitasking are found to perform worse on cognitive control tasks and exhibit more socio-emotional difficulties. However, the neural processes associated with media multi-tasking remain unexplored. The present study investigated relationships between media multitasking activity and brain structure. Research has demonstrated that brain structure can be altered upon prolonged exposure to novel environments and experience. Thus, we expected differential engagements in media multitasking to correlate with brain structure variability. This was confirmed via Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM) analyses: Individuals with higher Media Multitasking Index (MMI) scores had smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Functional connectivity between this ACC region and the precuneus was negatively associated with MMI. Our findings suggest a possible structural correlate for the observed decreased cognitive control performance and socio-emotional regulation in heavy media-multitaskers. While the cross-sectional nature of our study does not allow us to specify the direction of causality, our results brought to light novel associations between individual media multitasking behaviors and ACC structure differences.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Multitasking, Media multitasking, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Media multitasking refers to the simultaneous use of different forms of media. Previous research comparing heavy media multitaskers and light media multitaskers suggests that heavy media multitaskers have a broader scope of attention. The present study explored whether these differences in attentional scope would lead to a greater degree of implicit learning for heavy media multitaskers. The study also examined whether media multitasking behaviour is associated with differences in visual working memory, and whether visual working memory differentially affects the ability to process contextual information. In addition to comparing extreme groups (heavy and light media multitaskers) the study included analysis of people who media multitask in moderation (intermediate media multitaskers). Ninety-four participants were divided into groups based on responses to the media use questionnaire, and completed the contextual cueing and n-back tasks. Results indicated that the speed at which implicit learning occurred was slower in heavy media multitaskers relative to both light and intermediate media multitaskers. There was no relationship between working memory performance and media multitasking group, and no relationship between working memory and implicit learning. There was also no evidence for superior performance of intermediate media multitaskers. A deficit in implicit learning observed in heavy media multitaskers is consistent with previous literature, which suggests that heavy media multitaskers perform more poorly than light media multitaskers in attentional tasks due to their wider attentional scope.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Performance, Learning, Multitasking, Media multitasking, Working memory


It has long been known that the diameter of human pupil enlarges with increasing effort during the execution of a task. This has been observed not only for purely mechanical effort but also for mental effort, as for example the computation of arithmetic problems with different levels of difficulty. Here we show that pupil dilation reflects changes in visuospatial awareness induced by attentional load during multi-tasking. In the single-task condition, participants had to report the position of lateralized, briefly presented, masked visual targets (“right”, “left”, or “both” sides). In the multitasking conditions, participants also performed additional tasks, either visual or auditory, to increase the attentional load. Sensory stimulation was kept constant across all conditions to rule out the influence of low-level factors. Results show that event-related pupil dilation strikingly increased with task demands, mirroring a concurrent decrease in visuospatial awareness. Importantly, pupil dilation significantly differed between two dual-task conditions that required to process the same number of stimuli but yielded differed levels of accuracy (difficulty). In contrast, pupil dilation did not differ between two conditions which were equally challenging but differed both in the modality of the dual task (auditory vs. visual) and in the number of stimuli to be attended. We conclude that pupil dilation genuinely reflects the top-down allocation of supramodal attentional resources.

Concepts: Eye, Sensory system, Activity, Multitasking, Media multitasking, Task, Knitting, Spatial-temporal reasoning


This study addressed a rarely studied question of self-perceptions of performance and overall functional state during cumulative sleep restriction and the ensuing recovery period. Twenty healthy male volunteers, aged 19-29 years, were divided into a sleep restriction group (n = 13) and a control group (n = 7). On the first 2 nights, the sleep restriction group had an 8-h sleep opportunity that was restricted to 4 h for the next 5 nights, and then restored to 8 h for the last 2 nights. The control group had an 8-h sleep opportunity each night. Each day participants accomplished 50-min multitask sessions and gave self-ratings in their connection. Similar to our previous findings on multitasking performance, self-perceived task performance, sleepiness and mental fatigue impaired during the sleep restriction and returned to baseline during the recovery phase. Self-perceived mental effort, tension, task difficulty and task pace showed no sensitivity to the sleep restriction. We concluded that sleep-restricted individuals can probably make use of some self-perceptions when assessing their ‘fitness for duty’. However, at the individual level these measures seem to be inaccurate in revealing actual performance impairments.

Concepts: Controlling for a variable, Scientific control, Sleep, Fatigue, Individual, Somnolence, Multitasking, Media multitasking