CHICAGO — Teens like high-tech gadgets so much that they often use them all at once. While doing homework or playing video games, teens may listen to music or watch TV, all the while texting their friends. Some of these multitaskers think they are boosting their ability to attend to multiple activities, but in fact are more likely impairing their ability to focus, psychologist Mona Moisala of the University of Helsinki, reported October 18 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Moisala and colleagues tested 149 adolescents and young adults, ages 13 to 24, who regularly juggle multiple forms of media or play video games daily. Each participant had to focus attention on sentences (some logical, some illogical) under three conditions: without any distractions, while listening to distracting sounds, and while both listening to a sentence and reading another sentence.
Using functional MRI to track brain activity, the researchers found that daily gaming had no effect on participants’ ability to focus. Those who juggle multiple forms of electronic media, however, had more trouble paying attention. Multitaskers performed lower overall, even when they weren’t being distracted. Brain images showed that the multitaskers also showed a higher level of activity in the right prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain implicated in problem solving and in processing complex thoughts and emotions.
“Participants with the highest reported frequency of multimedia use showed the highest levels of brain activation in this area,” Moisala said. “In addition, these adolescents did worse on the task.”