In recent years, it has become almost second nature for college students to simultaneously use multiple media, such as texting while reading online. In this study, researchers questioned how media multitasking affects speed and accuracy of information processing and subsequent motor response. Scores from a questionnaire classified 22 participants as heavy media multitaskers (HMMs) and 20 as light media multitaskers (LMMs). Researchers then showed a square in either the top or the bottom half of the screen and directed participants to press the up arrow for the top half or the down arrow for the bottom half. Between each trial, participants either performed breathing exercises or surfed the web. Prior media multitasking impaired their ability to interpret details and accurately send signals to perform a motor response.
On a scale from -1 to 1.5, higher impulsivity scores indicate more impulsive responses and poorer overall performance. HMMs scored higher than LMMs regardless of treatment, demonstrating that their brains were more impulsive in processing information necessary to carrying out a motor response. Furthermore, the web rather than performing breathing exercises, further supporting that media multitasking reduces information processing and accuracy of motor responses. Skeptics might argue that since the error bars overlap, the conclusions from the data are not significant. Although there are overlaps, the p-value of 0.003 indicates there is only a 0.3% chance that the differences between LMM and HMM scores between the treatments would be seen randomly. Greater media multitasking correlates with, and appears to cause, an inability to process information needed to successfully perform a motor response.
The statistical significance reveals that media multitasking diminishes our abilities to cognitively interpret and physically respond to external information with precision. The data further indicate that LMMs and HMMs who practiced mindful breathing performed better than when the same people surfed the web. Therefore, breathing exercises can partially alleviate the cognitive impairment of media multitasking. Perhaps if students simply slowed down and practiced controlled breathing, they might make better decisions in class.
* Gorman, T. E. and Green, C. S. Sci. Rep. 6, 24542 (Should have a year here)