After a long day, I love to settle into my couch for some quality time with my Netflix account. Well, “quality time” may be the wrong word—it’s not exactly like I’m giving New Girl my full attention. At the same time I’m chuckling at Schmidt’s antics, I’m also scrolling through my Twitter feed, checking my email, and catching up on the news.
This has always seemed a little troublesome to me—has my attention really shrunk that much?!—but now I’ve found a science-based reason to stop.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness, media multitasking—or the consumption of several forms of media simultaneously—has been associated with negative social and physiological effects. Specifically, “individuals who engage in heavier media multitasking are found to perform worse on cognitive control tasks and exhibit more socio-emotional difficulties.”
Okay, not being as good at “cognitive control” (i.e., focusing) is logical. However, I’m perplexed—and a little nervous—about the “socio-emotional difficulties.” What does messing with my phone while I watch a movie have to do with my social skills?
It turns out media multitasking is linked to lower-than-normal gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, the area of the brain that handles cognitive and emotional tasks. In other words, it harms your abilities to win friends, influence people, and finish what you’re doing.
However, the authors noted the results were correlational, not causal. And as neuroscientist Earl Miller told NY Magazine, “It could be (in fact, is possibly more likely) that the relationship is the other way around.” So because I’m not content to sit and watch TV sans device, I might have less gray matter in the first place. (This research is doing wonders for my self-esteem.)
Ultimately, whatever the nature of the relationship, my brain is more precious to me than media multitasking. I’ve decided to try sticking to one device at a time; hopefully, my cognitive control, socio-emotional talents—and potentially career—will thank me.
What about you, Musers—will this change your browsing behavior?