Media multi-tasking 'of benefit'

Multi-tasker Too much of a good thing?

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Watching the television, browsing the internet and sending texts all at the same time may improve people's ability to deal with multuiple tasks, according to researchers.

They said studies had shown that multi-tasking could have a negative effect on memory and learning.

However their study, published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, said there were benefits too.

They said "multi-tasking may not always hurt".

Some studies have claimed that people who consume many different types of media tend to perform poorly in certain tasks.

One published in Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences even suggested heavy media multi-taskers struggled to switch from one task to another.

Performance

But scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong thought using information from several different sources should have some advantages.

They took 63 people aged between 19 and 28 and used questionnaires to gauge their multitasking lifestyle.

The participants were then set a test - finding a specific shape on computer screen full of similar shapes, all of which are changing colour. In some experiments the scientists also played sounds which "make the target pop out from the cluttered display," the researchers said.

Heavy multi-taskers performed better when the tone was played than when it was absent, while they were much worse than light multi-taskers without it.

The authors said: "Although the present findings do not demonstrate any causal effect, they highlight an interesting possibility of the effect of media multitasking on certain cognitive abilities.

"Media multitasking may not always be a bad thing."

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