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Jackie Alexander November 2010 CI 405

Multi-Tasking with Media People today are always doing more than one thing at one time. We eat dinner while we watch TV; we text one person while we are having a face-to-face conversation with another person; we surf the internet while we do our homework. With so many people constantly multitasking, it makes one wonder, what are the effects of multi-tasking on our brain? Can we do two things at once as well as we think we can? How does multi-tasking affect our educational learning? To understand the effects of how well people are able to multi-task, it is important to see how the brain works when it is multi-tasking. In an adult brain, cognitive and neuroanatomical systems in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain help one to multi-task. Further assistance from the straitum could be needed depending how difficult the task is. The pre-frontal cortex of your brain helps you to coordinate thought and action to help obtain goals. Research on how the brain works, points to the fact that the ability to multi-task is limited by cognitive bottlenecks. These bottlenecks limit the performance of how well the brain is able to function at multi-tasking skills. One big limitation by the bottlenecks is the ability to focus on two decision making tasks at one time. The brain is not set up to work this way. It wants to just focus on one task at a time. When working on two things at a time the pre-frontal cortex has response delays. This means that it takes longer for a person to do two tasks at a time as it would if they worked on one task at a time. The only time the brain is able to successfully perform two tasks simultaneous is when one

task is automatic to a person (this means it requires no decision making) (Vega, 2009). Therefore, it is easy for people to read and eat or do anything else that requires no thought. However, it is not so easy for people to be engaged in homework and a TV show or check email and Facebook while they are listening to a lecture. When looking at the research that looks at just how well students are able to multi-task, the results lead to the same answer; it is not as effective to try doing two things at once. In one study, researchers looked at how homework was affected when the use of media was also present. The study looked at four different conditions. The research focused on how well students did when they completed pencil and paper tasks while engaged in soap opera television, music videos, radio music, or complete silence. The results of the study showed that students who were engaged in watching the soap opera did significantly lower than the students who completed the pencil and paper task in silence. However, students who watched music videos or listened to the radio did equally as well as the students who completed the task in silence. This concludes that some media tasks are easier to multi-task at than others (Jeong, 2009). This goes back to how the brain functions. If one task is effortless and takes no decision making, the brain is able to multi-task this with another task. However, when the brain needs to concentrate on two things at once, the brain is unable to do both tasks as equally well. So, in the case of listening to music and watching music videos, the participants were able to do these things while working on the paper and pencil assignment because it does not require a lot of thought to listen to music. However, it was hard to watch the soap opera while completing the pencil and paper task because watching a soap opera takes concentration. To really understand what is going on in the show, one must think about what is going on and possibly make decisions on what they think is going to happen. This in return means that the person is making decisions on the TV show and

the pencil and paper assignment, and then both tasks are not completed as well as they could be if they were done separately. Another study also found that multi-tasking leads to decreased results on a given task. This study looked at how well students completed their homework while they were IMing. The study found that IMers spend two hours a day chatting with other people and because of this they are adept to multi-tasking at the same time. 97% of IM users reported doing something else on the computer while talking on IM. 93% of users reported doing homework while IMing. 57% of the people who worked on schoolwork and chatted at the same time said that IMing while working on schoolwork had a detrimental effect on their schoolwork. This is because students are trying to hold representations in their working memory when they are in the middle of a conversation and they are trying to engage in essential learning. This requires the brain to work harder, and since the brain was not designed to do the two things at once, it cannot do either task very well, thus yielding less educational benefits. What is really interesting about this study is the affect multi-tasking had on the participants schoolwork the more they engaged in IMing. According to the study, Students who reported that they do schoolwork while IMing very frequently and somewhat frequently were more likely than those who do this sometimes, rarely, or never to report academic impairment due to IM use (Junco, 2010). This is shown through the fact that 70% students who reported to frequently IM while engaged in school said that IMing had a negative effect on schoolwork. Contrarily, less than 20% of students who reported to never do the two tasks at once reported impairment. This further proves that multi-tasking has a negative impact on educational learning (Junco, 2010). Although for the most part, multi-tasking is not a good thing to do, especially when working on school work, there are some not so negative aspects about it. For starters, it is a lot

easier for children to do it. Some fMRI studies point to the reasons why children might be better at multi-tasking than adults. The research shows that children are able to separate their attention and focus on one thing at a time. Children are able to filter out irrelevant information a lot better than adults are able to. It is also possible that some of the information on the web that is contributing to multi-tasking has potential to promote learning and creativity. According to Vega, preliminary research in informal and formal learning environments suggests mediamultitasking may well detract from learning, but it also has potential for enhancing learning (2009). Therefore, multi-tasking could have some benefits. The potential for enhanced learning is possible through breaking down the order of ordering information. This in return allows a person to be exposed to multiple contexts of one concept, which allows that person to gain a deeper understanding of the concept (Vega, 2009). Therefore, multi-tasking is not always a detrimental activity to participate in. In conclusion, although not all research points to multi-tasking as being a negative activity, most research does point to that. The brain is not meant to work on multiple things at one time. Since, we can only focus on one thing at a time, we do not do the tasks we are multitasking to their full capacity. One study showed that when a student works on pencil and paper assignments at the same time as they watch a soap opera, the student will do significantly worse than a student who worked on the assignment while either watching music videos, listening to the radio, or worked in silence. Another study found that students who IM while working on school work, knew that IMing had a negative impact on schoolwork. Although it is impossible to stop students from media multi-tasking while they work on schoolwork, it is important that they understand the impact it can have on their schoolwork.

Through writing this paper, I have learned a good deal about how learning can suffer when multi-tasking. I think it is important to let students know this. I know that even though students will most likely continue to multi-task even after they know the affects of it, it could still make them think about what they are doing. Maybe they will not stop multi-tasking all the time, but as long as students are aware of it, they might think twice about multi-tasking when they are working on an important assignment. So, I would discourage students to stay away from it as much as possible. With technology continuously changing, the pros and cons of media multi-tasking are likely to change as well. I wonder if over time students will get better at multitasking the more they do it. I know children are better multi-taskers than adults, and I wonder if children continue to multi-task if they will still lose the skill. It is possible that if children continue to practice focusing on one activity at a time while they are multi-tasking, they will eventually get good at the skill over time. It is an interesting concept and one I will probably think about often while I consider multi-tasking while doing my own schoolwork.

Bibliography Jeong, Se Hoon., Zhang, Weiyu., Davis, Elisabeth., Jordan, Amy., Fishbein, Martin., Hennessy, Michael. and martin, suzanne. "Multiple Media Use and Multitasking withMedia Among High School and College Students" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton New York, New York City,NY, 2009-05-25 http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/ 1/4/4/5/p14452_index.html Junco, R., Cotten, S. R., Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use, Computers & Education (2010), doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.08.020 Vega, V. (2009). Media-Multitasking: Implications for Learning and Cognitive Development in Youth, Background paper, Seminar on the Impacts of Media Multitasking on Childrens Learning & DevelopmentStanford University, July 15th, 2009, http://multitasking.stanford.edu/MultitaskingBackgroundPaper.pdf