Multitasking may be changing your brain

Multitasking may be changing your brain

When it comes to the amount of time we spend looking at multiple screens, less may be more.

According to a new study out of the Sackler Center for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, neurologists Kep Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai observed that people who consumed more than one piece of media concurrently had brains that were shaped differently from individuals who only watched one screen at a time.

Media multitaskers from the study had lower densities of gray matter in their anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain thought to be related to emotion and higher thought.

“The anterior cingulate cortex is involved in mood and memory,” says Dr. Raina Gupta, a Neurologist at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “There is also some thought that it may be related to schizophrenia, ADHD and obsessive compulsive disorder, but this has not been proven.”

The study, first published in the journal PLOS ONE in late September, involved taking MRIs from 75 participants and comparing those scans to the responses that each participant gave from a survey about their media habits.

Loh and Kanai’s study is the first to identify actual changes in the structure of the brain as a result of the activity, but previous research on the effects of media multitasking have already shown that individuals who engage heavily in the practice have more difficulty with tasks that rely on fine control over thinking and emotions.

Researchers made it clear that there was no definite proof to show that media multitasking causes changes in brain size, instead saying that they only revealed a connection between the two. However, even the suggestion that multitasking can change the way the brain works should be enough to give users a second thought before turning on a second screen.

Dr. Gupta says that even though there still is no final answer on the effect of multitasking behavior, there are some things users can do to be safer while on their screens.

“Media has become such a large part of our everyday lives, which raises an interesting question of what the effect, if any, it creates on our well-being,” says Dr. Gupta. “Still, you want to make sure you are not using media while driving or participating in activities where media use would be unsafe. More research needs to be done before a definitive answer is found.”

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Comments

3 Comments

  1. It seems I’m always looking at some type of screen, ranging from 5 inches to 40 inches! I can’t imagine that it’s good for me….!

  2. Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Having been involved in writing and research all my life and a bookworm, too, I can tell you that unitasking — extreme focus on one thing at a time, turning off the email and only checking it twice a day during business hours, and screening calls — has really benefitted me over the years ( I get more done, believe it or not, and it’s done well without distractions). So has steadfastly remaining a print reader: I print out material I want to proofread or review, rather than reading it on screen (that also gives my eyes a break from flicker). Your brain handles print media differently (to your brain’s benefit) than online or broadcast media, which is why small children should be saddled with books and kept away from TV and computer screens as much as possible. You’ll be doing their brains a favor, both immediately and over the long term because of what kinds of connections those young brians will form on print material. A library card is still more important than having a laptop, and it always trumps a GameBoy or other video game unit!

  3. Wow. Very interesting. I’m going to watch my media habits from now on!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.