Is media multitasking bad for the brain?

Do you ever text while surfing the web, or play on your tablet while watching TV? A recent study has found that media multitasking like this may be bad news for your grey matter.

1st October 2014

Do you ever text while surfing the web, or play on your tablet while watching TV? A recent study has found that media multitasking like this may be bad news for your grey matter.

Neuroscientists Kep Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai at the University of Sussex found that the area of the brain that controls cognitive and emotional functions was less dense in those who regularly use several media devices at once.

Can media multitasking reduce your grey matter?

 

“Media multitasking is becoming more prevalent in our lives today,” says Loh. “There is increasing concern about its impacts on our cognition and social-emotional well-being.”

Previous work in this area found links between frequent media multitasking and psychological problems such as poor concentration, anxiety and depression, but Loh and Kanai are the first to find a connection to something physical.

The pair used an MRI scanner to map the brains of 40 participants who had answered a questionnaire about their use of 10 common forms of media. Independent of individual personality traits, higher levels of media multitasking corresponded to a lower density of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

However, the pair admits that they're unsure about which way round this relationship works, saying that “it is conceivable that individuals with smaller ACC are more susceptible to multitasking.” They add that a “longitudinal study [carried out over a long period of time] is required to unambiguously determine the direction of causation.”

But in the meantime, perhaps you should switch off the TV, lock the tablet and put down that phone before you finish reading...

By Tim Bodicoat

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