Multitasking trains the sensory processing of the brain

Frequent use of various media facilitates multisensory tasks

Multitasking uses several media at the same time. © SXC
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Contrary to previous assumptions, multitasking certainly has a positive training effect on the brain: people who are accustomed to receiving information in parallel via different media can better solve tasks that require multiple senses. This is what researchers from Hong Kong found out in an experiment. In a test that required seeing and hearing at the same time, the subjects who often used text messaging, music, Internet surfing, e-mail, online video, computer games, or social networking in parallel did better. Although multitasking generally weakens the ability to concentrate and selective attention. But there may be benefits to certain tasks, Kelvin Lui and Alan Wong of the Chinese University of Hong Kong report in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

"Medial multitasking does not just cause deficits, " the researchers write. Instead, the frequent use of parallel information channels promotes the ability to integrate and process information from different sensory stimuli.

In the past, multitasking was rather counterproductive. For example, those who constantly have to switch between e-mail, telephone, social networks and other communication channels in their job ultimately create less than someone who works through their tasks without interruption. Studies also show that working memory and selective attention are inhibited in multitasking. Already music or a running television in the background reduce the mental performance in cognitive tests, the researchers say. It has remained unclear, however, whether the intensive multitasking can not also have advantages.

Trained multitaskers compared with untrained

For their study, Lui and Wong initially interviewed 63 young adults between the ages of 19 and 28 about their medial habits. A part of the test subjects belonged to the experienced multitaskers and was accustomed to use several media at the same time. The other part is not.

In the actual test, the participants should always respond when the screen appeared either an exactly vertical or exactly horizontal line. 47 lines of the same appearance but different inclination served as a distraction. The right line - but also the distracting - changed the color in between. In two out of four test runs, a short beep sounded as an additional acoustic signal during such a color change. display

The most well-behaved multitaskers achieved better results in the clay tests than the untrained ones. But they performed worse in the tasks without additional acoustic indication. The multitaskers therefore always benefited from their experience, when hearing and vision had to be processed simultaneously, as the researchers report. Then they benefit from the fact that they routinely collect information from different sources.

(Doi: 10.3758 / s13423-012-0245-7)

(Springer science & business media, 16.04.2012 - NPO)