Today, we see more individuals multitasking with their cell phones and laptops simultaneously. Researchers wondered if and how frequency of media multitasking would affect grey matter volume in the brain. Lower grey matter volume is indicative of lower cognitive efficiency.* At the University College London, researchers scored media multitasking habits of 75 healthy adults using the Media Multitasking Index (MMI) and scanned the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of their brains using VBM neuroimaging. After plotting grey matter volume and MMI scores, they found a statistically significant negative correlation between intensity of media multitasking and grey matter volume in the ACC.
As frequency of multitasking scores increase along the X-axis, grey matter volume along the Y-axis decreases. The downward direction of the trendline reveals that media multitasking diminishes grey matter volume in the ACC. The decrease in volume suggests the ACC of high-scoring heavy multitaskers is cognitively less efficient than that in lower-scoring multitaskers. Since the ACC connects cognitive processing and emotional response, weakened functioning slowed detection of and reaction to external stimuli. However, critics may argue the scattered data points make it difficult to accurately identify a correlation. Although this is visually evident, the overall negative trendline provides clear visualization that the more our brains are exposed to multiple media sources, the more grey matter volume decreases. Furthermore, the p value of less than 0.001 signifies that there is less than 0.1% chance that this negative trend would be seen randomly. Using multiple media at once leads to a decrease in ACC grey matter volume in the brain.
As evident by the negative slope, the brain is negatively influenced by usage of multiple media at once. Researchers did not find significance differences in genders, ages, and education levels of participants. Heavy media multitasking will reduce the grey matter volume in the ACC of any brain. With more young individuals and adults choosing to listen to podcasts while carrying out important tasks, they are diminishing their abilities to evaluate and respond to external stimuli. It is critical to raise public awareness of these cognitive consequences as they may be crucial for long-term mental capacity.
*Loh, K. K., & Kanai, R. (2014). PloS one, 9(9), e106698.