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Watching television while texting your friend and Skyping with your boyfriend can be quite a juggling act, but many of us seem to have mastered the art of multitasking. Not everyone approves of it, however, as previous studies have found that doing multiple tasks has its consequences. Our attention span, for example, is usually the first to suffer. However, a new study published in the Springer’s Psychonomic Bulletin & Review is now saying that there may be an upside to it after all.
First, researchers wanted to find out how using more than one form of media could affect users. People who multitask generally show signs of cognitive impairment, and researchers believed that this could be because their attention is on several things at once. They then wondered whether or not this could be a good thing.
To test their theory, researchers recruited 63 participants between the ages of 19 and 28 and asked them to answer a questionnaire about how often they used certain media and how often they multitasked. They were then given a visual search task, which was sometimes accompanied by synchronous sound--that is, an auditory pip would signal the visual target had changed color without actually pointing out where it was.
Once the test was completed, researchers found that those who multitasked the most were more likely to do better at multisensory integration. This means they did better at the task when the auditory pips were present compared to other participants. "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, multisensory integration in particular. Media multitasking may not always be a bad thing," the researchers wrote.
Is this a good thing or not? The answer could go either way. If you often find yourself in situations that involve multitasking--especially at work--then it might be a comfort to know that many of us aren’t exactly novices at it. However, it's important to figure out what works for you; after all, just because multitasking helps your coworker perform more efficiently, it doesn't necessarily mean the same will be true for you. Also, some tasks are easily done along with others, while others require better focus, so try to match your multitasking to your personality and responsibilities.
(Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr Creative Commons)