Multi-tasking Makes Us Feel Good

Cognitive abilities decreased by multi-tasking but emotional satisfaction increased

(RxWiki News) Media multitasking is becoming ever more popular but some studies have shown that our cognitive abilities may be reduced by it. If multitasking actually reduces productivity, why are more and more people doing it?

A new study suggests that the cause may be emotional. Students self-reported that they felt higher levels of emotional satisfaction after media multitasking despite being less focused.

"You may work and study more effectively without multi-tasking."

"There's this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive," said Zheng Wang, PhD, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University. "But they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking.

They are not being more productive - they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work."

The researchers asked 32 college students to carry a mobile device to help them track and report their media usage. The students reported on their usage three times per week for four weeks.

The reports included the type of media use (TV, radio, computer, print, etc) and the related activities (watching video, web browsing, social networks, etc). The students reported the duration of these activities and whether or not they were performed simultaneously with other media experiences.

Students were also asked to rate their motivation for each media use in seven ‘need’ categories on a ten point scale: social, fun, entertainment, study, work, habitual, or background noise. They also rated if that need was met on a four point scale.

The researchers found that participants were more likely to multitask when they had higher cognitive needs. In other words, they were more likely to multitask while they had work to do.

The team also found that students were less likely to have their cognitive needs met while they were multitasking, but they were more likely to report that they were emotionally satisfied.

Additionally, those who multitask once are more likely to continue doing it.

"We found what we call a dynamical feedback loop. If you multitask today, you're likely to do so again tomorrow, further strengthening the behavior over time," said Wang. "This is worrisome because students begin to feel like they need to have the TV on or they need to continually check their text messages or computer while they do their homework. It's not helping them, but they get an emotional reward that keeps them doing it.”

The study was published online April 25th, 2012, in the Journal of Communication and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Review Date: 
May 1, 2012