Media multitasking is an increasingly common behavior where individuals use multiple forms of media simultaneously (e.g., listening to music while chatting through social media). Heavy media multitaskers may perform poorly in some cognitive control abilities, including inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. The “scatter attention hypothesis” suggests that heavy media multitaskers are more likely to be distracted by irrelevant information, leading to poorer performance on cognitive tasks. To investigate the association between media multitasking frequency with cognitive control, Kong and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis comparing cognitive control abilities between heavy (HMM) and light media multitaskers (LMM), while also examining potential moderators including age using two groups: adolescents (12-18 years old) and young adults (18-35 years old).
The sample included 118 effect sizes from 43 studies that compared at least one component of executive function between HMM and LMM using the media multitask index (MMI) or a modified version of MMI to measure the media multitask experience. MMI is a self-reported tool that requires participants to report time spent on various types of media and their concurrent usage frequency. The results of the three-level meta-analysis indicated that:
- The HMM significantly underperformed compared to LMM on cognitive control tasks (ES = -0.23)
- The type of cognitive function was a significant moderator with inhibitory control having the largest effect (ES = -0.31), followed by working memory (ES = -0.24) and flexibility (ES=-0.05).
- The effect was significantly larger when cognitive controls were measured by a self-reported approach (ES = -047) rather than by laboratory tasks (ES = -0.16)
- No significant difference was found between adolescents (ES=-0.39) and young adults or college students (ES=-0.20) in terms of the difference in cognitive function between HMM and LMM.
Engaging in media multitasking more frequently is likely to result in poorer performance in inhibitory control and working memory. Authors suggested that the findings supported the scattered attention hypothesis.
Source: Kong, F., Meng, S., Deng, H., Wang, M., & Sun, X. (2023). Cognitive control in adolescents and young adults with media multitasking experience: A three-level meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 35(1), 22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-023-09746-0