Heavy media multitasking associated with poor memory, study finds

Flipping through emails and social media while half tuning into a Zoom lecture? Researchers in a new study found heavier media multitasking correlated to poor memory.

“As we navigate our lives, we have these periods in which we’re frustrated because we’re not able to bring knowledge to mind, expressing what we know,” Anthony Wagner, the Lucie Stern professor in the social sciences in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, said in a university news release. “Fortunately, science now has tools that allow us to explain why an individual, from moment to moment, might fail to remember something stored in their memory.”

Researchers found heavier media multitasking correlated to poor memory in a new study. (iStock)

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In the study, published in Nature on Wednesday, researchers measured 80 young adults’ brain activity and pupil size while they were tasked with recalling certain events.

“Increases in alpha power in the back of your skull have been related to attention lapses, mind wandering, distractibility and so forth,” Kevin Madore, study lead author and Stanford postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Memory Lab, said in the release. “We also know that constrictions in pupil diameter – in particular before you do different tasks – are related to failures of performance like slower reaction times and more mind wandering.”

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Study participants were shown photos of objects on a computer and gave certain ratings, like “pleasantness” and the object size, according to the Scientific American. Then, 10 minutes later, they answered whether the picture was new or already seen. Researchers determined attention lapses through the brain and eye measurements and related the findings back to a survey on participants’ media multitasking and daily attention, the outlet wrote.

“The scientists then compared memory performance between individuals and found that those with lower sustained attention ability and heavier media multitaskers both performed worse on memory tasks,” according to the university release.

Study authors said the results represent a correlation, not a causation, between media multitasking and memory, though more is coming to light on the subject.

“We can’t say that heavier media multitasking causes difficulties with sustained attention and memory failures,” Madore wrote in the release, “though we are increasingly learning more about the directions of the interactions.”

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