The Good and Evil of Media Multitasking
Finishing a homework assignment while simultaneously watching a TV show and texting with friends. Among students, using several media types at the same time has become more and more common. A study in Computers in Human Behavior shows that media multitasking is related to both positive and negative consequences for students’ social and psychological well-being.
- The Good of media multitasking:
- Media multitasking is beneficial for social and psychological well-being when it occurs during entertainment activities.
- The Evil of media multitasking:
- Media multitasking behavior during cognitive activities (such as studying) and during “face-to-face” social interactions or phone calls is related to lower levels of well-being.
- These findings are particularly important for those who often engage in media multitasking. It is important to know in which situations multitasking behavior is beneficial for social and psychological well-being and in which situations it is not.
How does media multitasking relate to university students’ social and psychological well-being?
375 participants (mean age: 21 years; 38% men; 40% were freshmen, 20% sophomores, 17% juniors, 8% seniors and 15% graduate students).
In order to investigate the impact of media multitasking behaviors on students’ social and psychological well-being, participants were asked to fill out an online survey, which was shared through major social network sites (SNS), such as Facebook. The survey contained questions about student’s communication activities, media multitasking tendencies, social success, normalcy (feeling of being accepted by peers) and self-control (capacity to block out distractors while doing another task, for example learning).
Facts and findings
- Students with lower self-control more often engaged in media-multitasking during cognitive activities, such as reading and studying.
- Students who often engaged in media multitasking during entertainment activities reported to have:
- more friends and better social skills (social success).
- more capacity to block out distractors while engaging in cognitive tasks (self-control).
- stronger feelings of being accepted by peers (normalcy).
- In this entertaining context, media multitasking was positively related to the social and psychological well-being of students.
- Students who often engaged in media multitasking during synchronous social interactions, such as talking on the phone, video chatting or having face-to-face conversations, reported lower levels of social success.
- Engaging in media multitasking during asynchronous social interactions, such as texting, online chatting or e-mailing, was not related to the social and psychological well-being of students.
- Interesting finding: Students indicated to media multitask most often during asynchronous social interaction. During synchronous social interaction, media multitasking was least common.
- Critical note: No conclusions can be drawn about cause (media multitasking) and effect (students’ well-being). This study only shows that media multitasking and social and psychological well-being are related.