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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