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Bad news for people who like to text their BFFs while surfing the Web for some new shoes and watching the latest episode of Project Runway. Scientists who've conducted what they say is the first-ever study of chronic multitaskers found that cognitive performance declines when people try to pay attention to many media channels at once.
Although media multitasking has become more and more prevalent, no one knows how chronic media immersion affects cognitive functioning. So a team headed by psychologist Eyal Ophir of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, identified 19 "heavy media multitaskers" (HMMs) and 22 "light media multitaskers" (LMMs) among a group of students based on how often they reported simultaneously using media such as television, cell phones, computer games, and videos.
The researchers then gave subjects in the two groups tests to see how well they could sift relevant information from the environment, filter out irrelevant information in their memories, and quickly switch between cognitive tasks. One filtering test, for example, required viewers to note changes in red rectangles while ignoring changes in blue rectangles in the same pictures. In the task-switching experiment, participants were presented with images of paired numbers and letters and had to switch back and forth between classifying the numbers as even or odd and classifying the letters as vowels or consonants.
first-ever study of chronic multitaskers found that cognitive performance declines
when people try to pay attention to many media channels at once.