Study of the Day: Media Multitaskers May Have Sharper Senses

Those who juggle several devices at the same time are more adept at integrating information from multiple senses, new research shows.

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PROBLEM: Media multitasking gets a bum rap. Previous experiments in the lab and in real-life situations have demonstrated poorer performance during cognitive tests involving task switching, selective attention, and working memory. But is there also an upside to using multiple gadgets at once?

METHODOLOGY: The Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers Kelvin Lui and Alan Wong recruited frequent and light media multitaskers, aged 19-28 years, to explore the differences in their tendency and ability to capture information from seemingly irrelevant sources. They asked the subjects to complete questionnaires on their media habits and take part in a visual-search task that occasionally required audio-visual synchronization.

RESULTS: The participants who simultaneously use several devices the most tended to be more efficient at multisensory integration. That is, the frequent multitaskers performed better than the light multitaskers in the visual-search task when the audio cue was present and worse when it was absent.

CONCLUSION: Experienced media multitaskers who routinely take in information from numerous sources are better at integrating information from multiple senses as well.

SOURCE: The full study, "Does Media Multi-Tasking Always Hurt? A Positive Correlation Between Multitasking and Multisensory Integration," is published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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