While multitasking is all too common, researchers have actually found that trying to do more than one thing at a time actually diminishes productivity and performance. According to a new study by researchers from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, multitasking might not be all bad. Their work suggests that people who engage in media multitasking, aka using more than one form of media or type of technology at once, might be better at integrating visual and auditory information.
In the study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, participants between the ages of 19 and 28 years of age were asked to complete questionnaires regarding their media usage. The participants then completed a visual search task both with an without and auditory sound to indicate when the item changed color. Those who were media multitaskers performed better on the visual search when the auditory tone was presented, indicating that they were more adept at integrating the two sources of sensory information. Conversely, these heavy multitaskers performed worse than the light medium multitaskers when the tone was not present.
There has been a considerable amount of research to date on the detrimental impacts of multitasking. People who switch between tasks tend to lose time and have problems staying on task, which has a negative impact on both productivity and performance. While multitasking still has its downsides, this research might indicate that our constant exposure to multiple forms of media might have some benefits. "Although the present findings do not demonstrate any causal effect, they highlight an interesting possibility of the effect of media multitasking on certain cognitive abilities, multisensory integration in particular. Media multitasking may not always be a bad thing," the authors suggest.
Lui, K. F. H., & Wong, A. C. N. (2012). Does media multitasking always hurt? A positive correlation between multitasking and multisensory integration. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-012-0245-7
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