Media multitaskers become popular

By Nicole Osuch
March 29, 2007

Emily Buerger

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, when students are sitting in front of their computers “studying,” they’re also doing something else 65 percent of the time.

Ryan Kaysen, a freshman business administration major, admits that when he sits down to study he often turns his iPod on, flips television channels while simultaneously sending a few instant messages to his friends finding out what’s going on later.

The report found that the number of “media multitaskers” like Kaysen has increased from 16 percent to 26 percent. The report also showed that girls were more likely to media multitask than boys.

At this time, researches are not sure if multitasking is a positive and/or negative influence.

“A positive of multitasking is that we need to learn how to do it because we live in a high-paced society that reinforces multitasking. Multitaskers are viewed as being more efficient. Often the employee that multitasks gets the raise or promotion compared to the slow more calculated person,” Dr. Melissa Terlecki, a psychology professor, said.

Kaysen said, “I think I will be more of an asset to a company I work for if I can do more than one thing at once.”

While multitasking may make students feel like they are being more productive and will be able to have more time on their hands to do what they really want. Terlecki was quick to infer that there could be negatives concerning multitasking.

When a student is multitasking, interference occurs and that can affect memory. If all your attention is not devoted, you may not be learning completely. Your memory is worse when there is interference. “If students really want to learn the material they are studying than they should turn everything off. Fewer intrusions are better. The reason why libraries are supposed to be quiet and we don’t talk during class is so that students don’t observe interference,” Terlecki said.

The more similar the tasks that you are dividing your attention between, the more interference you’ll experience. The type of the task affects how much interference you observe. Usually our cognitive resources are differentiated between verbal and visual modes. For example, two visual tasks would be tougher than one visual and one verbal, like talking on the phone while watching television.

Kaysen did admit that “I’m sure that I miss some valuable information but I take in enough information to do well.”

Matt Connelly, a sophomore liberal arts major, said, “I probably would do better if I just focused on one thing. I’m doing fine. I am maintaining at least a 3.0. I bet if I turned the television off I would do even better.”

When students sit down to do homework that isn’t the only time that they experience intrusion when it comes to school; students experience intrusion in class. Terlecki reflected that students are texting their friends while taking notes and listening to the professor lecture. “I want them to devote 100 percent to taking notes.” Terlecki also pointed out that teachers should not lecture while students are jotting down notes because they will experience interference and very likely miss important points.

Terlecki said, “In the long term, multitasking is probably worse for students. Interference is more detrimental to memory than the passage of time. In the short term, multitasking can save money and time and that’s what our culture is all about.”

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Nicole Osuch

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