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Multitasking Leads to Memory Disruption Regardless of Age, Study Finds

wallpapers Business 2020-09-19 >

Despite all the advances of modern civilization, the human brain remains mostly the same as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago. We humans are “built” to focus on a single analogue task at a time and then move onto the next one. And yet, with the advent of digital media, the demands made on our attention have risen dramatically.

A new study recently published in the journal Nature raises concerns about the effect that so-called multi-tasking may have on people’s memories. More specifically, the study has found that shifting attention between different forms of digital or screen-based media may impair both attention and memory in young adults.

Even though the association between multi-tasking and memory dysfunction is not new, this study provides a potential reason as to why this happens – and it all has to do with one’s ability to maintain focus for extended periods of time.

Shifting attention between any number of different tasks impairs memory function in general and the ability to recall particular events. Image: openclipart.org

The study was conducted on a total of 80 subjects between the ages of 18 and 26 who were asked to look at images of objects on a computer screen and classify them in terms of pleasantness or size. Following a 10-minute break, the subjects were given an additional set of images which they had to identify as either already classified or new.

In order to determine the number of lapses in attention that occurred during the second task, the researchers used electroencephalography and eye tracking. After both tasks were completed, the authors of the study compared the subjects’ attention levels to the questionnaires – filled out in advance – that quantified their overall capacity for focused attention, mind wandering and media multi-tasking.

Results showed that higher reported media multi-tasking is correlated with impaired memory and decreased pupil diameter – a known marker of reduced attention. Furthermore, attention gaps just prior to remembering were linked with forgetting the earlier images and reduced brain-signal patterns known to be associated with the ability to recall particular events.

“We found evidence that one’s ability to sustain attention helps to explain the relationship between heavier media multitasking and worse memory,” said lead author Kevin Madore, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. “Individuals who are heavier media multi-taskers may also show worse memory because they have lower sustained attention ability.”

For now, these findings remain only correlational, as it is conceivable that people with lower capacity for sustained attention gravitate towards digital distractions, rather than such distractions being the cause of impaired attention ability. In addition, the study is agnostic with regards to whether any specific type of media is detrimental to the brain, e.g., it has been suggested that action video games may actually be beneficial to the development of cognitive skills.

The research team now plans to conduct further studies to tease out the specific factors at play when it comes to multi-tasking and attention, and to work on developing effective attention-training interventions for people prone to distraction.


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