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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Multitasking Really Can Be a Problem

Research has shown that electronic devices in the classroom can be a distraction that can result in lower grades for the student and even disrupt nearby classmates. Now,  Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, has shown that students multitasking while studying—checking e-mail, looking at Facebook, texting, etc.—don’t understand the topic as well and remembers less.

In “Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-inducedtask-switching while studying,” Rosen had researchers follow 263 students ranging in age from middle school to college. The researchers went into the students’ homes and recorded what each was doing while studying.

“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” Rosen told Slate magazine. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices.”

Part of the multitasking problem, according to Rosen, is that texting, e-mailing, and posting on social media sites are mentally complex. In addition, a study from University of Michigan psychology professor David Meyer found the brain can’t perform two complex tasks at the same time.

“It can happen only when the two tasks are both very simple and when they don’t compete with each other for the same mental resources,” Meyer said. “An example would be folding laundry and listening to the weather report on the radio. That’s fine. But listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.”

However, researchers understand students aren’t going to stop using their devices anytime soon. Rosen suggests two-minute “tech breaks” after about 15 minutes of uninterrupted schoolwork. He has found that students can extend the amount of time they spend studying, as long as they know the break is coming.

“Young people’s technology use is really about quelling anxiety,” he said. “They don’t want to miss out. They don’t want to be the last person to hear some news, or the ninth person to ‘like’ someone’s post.”

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