Media multitasking may be good for you after all

Media butterflies, flitting from TV to email to social networking, may be improving their skills at integrating information.

A new study by Kelvin Lui and Alan Wong from the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that those who frequently use different types of media at the same time seem to be better at integrating information from multiple senses.

The team asked 63 people, aged between 19 and 28, to fill out questionnaires on their media usage – both the time they spent using various media and the extent to which they used more than one type at a time.

They were then given a visual search task, with and without a warning sound signal which contained no information about the visual target’s location, but indicated the instant it changed color.

On average, the people who media multitasked the most tended to be the best at multisensory integration, handling the task better when the tone was present than when it was absent. They also performed worse in the tasks without the tone.

The researchers reckon that the multitaskers’ ability to routinely take in information from a number of different sources made it easier for them to take advantage of the unexpected auditory signal in the task.

“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,” say the authors.

“Media multitasking may not always be a bad thing.”