- Charles Sturt University research suggests that moderate amounts of media multitasking is associated with minimal mind wandering and optimal performance
- Academic cautions the finding does not generalise to all tasks, as there are many other factors that also influence task performance, not just habitual multitasking
A joint study by Charles Sturt University and Flinders University has shown that moderate amounts of media multitasking is associated with minimal mind-wandering and optimal performance.
Lecturer in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology in Bathurst Dr Myoungju (Jay) Shin (pictured) said, “Media consumption is an important part of our daily lives, and most of us start our day by turning on our mobile phones or tablets to read the daily news and check the emails, and to keep in touch with family and friends.
“Young adults who grew up in this media-saturated environment frequently use more than one form of media at the same time – for example, checking social media while reading an online article or watching a YouTube video; this is known as media multitasking.
“However, multitasking has frequently been associated with poorer performance in each task, due to our limited attentional resources.”
The research project, published as ‘Moderate amounts of media multitasking are associated with optimal task performance and minimal mind wandering’, investigated whether frequent media multitasking is linked to inattention and mind wandering (task-unrelated thought) and as a result, poorer task performance.
Dr Shin explained most research suggests any form of multitasking in day-to-day settings should be discouraged.
“This is because we only have a limited amount of attentional resource available and we should ideally devote this limited attentional resource into one task at a time for optimal task performance,” she said.
“According to this idea, if we habitually engage in multitasking, the task performance would suffer.
“Moreover, there is no clear evidence that frequent multitasking practice increases actual multitasking ability.”
Dr Shin noted that in the study, a moderate media multitasker is defined as someone who generally engages in two to three different types of media concurrently per hour.
“It was expected that frequent engagement in media multitasking would be linked to greater mind wandering and poorer task performance,” Dr Shin said.
“The results showed heavy media multitaskers indeed mind-wandered more and performed more poorly than intermediate media multitaskers.
“Surprisingly however, light media multitaskers also showed a tendency to mind-wander more (although not significant) and perform more poorly (statistically significant) than intermediate media multitaskers.
“This relationship between media multitasking, mind-wandering and task performance was more prominent during difficult than easy tasks.”
Dr Shin said the research suggests frequent media multitasking is linked to inattention and mind wandering, as well as poorer task performance, but this does not mean less media multitasking is necessarily linked to more task engagement and higher task performance.
“In fact, contrary to the current belief that habitual multitasking is bad, the present results show a moderate amount of habitual media multitasking is actually associated with minimal mind-wandering and better task performance,” she said.
“This result is particularly encouraging as most of us engage in media multitasking to some extent in our daily lives.
“However, this does not mean moderate media multitasking should be encouraged in all tasks, as there are many factors that also influence task performance, not just habitual multitasking.
“These influences include the complexity of the tasks, how much practice the individual has had in each task, and how motivated the individual is in doing the tasks, and the tasks in work or classroom settings vary greatly in these aspects.”The study ‘Moderate amounts of media multitasking are associated with optimal task performance and minimal mind wandering’ is by Dr Jay Shin and Ms Astrid Linke at Charles Sturt University, and Professor Eva Kemps at Flinders University.