Media Multitasking Enhances Multisensory Integration
Media multitasking, using multiple forms of media simultaneously, enhances multisensory integration, according to a new study.
The study conducted by Kelvin Lui and Alan Wong from The Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that those who frequently media multitask tend to be more efficient at integrating information from multiple senses - vision and hearing in this instance - when asked to perform a specific task. This may be due to their experience of spreading their attention to different sources of information while media multitasking.
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, multisensory integration in particular. Media multitasking may not always be a bad thing."
Lui and Wong's study explored the differences between media multitaskers' tendency and ability to capture information from seemingly irrelevant sources. In particular, they assessed how much two different groups (frequent multitaskers and light multitaskers) could integrate visual and auditory information automatically.
63 participants, aged 19-28 years, participated in the experiment. They completed questionnaires looking at their media usage - both time spent using various media and the extent to which they used more than one at a time. The participants were then given a visual search task, with and without synchronous sound, i.e. a short auditory pip, which contained no information about the visual target's location, but indicated the instant it changed color.
On average, participants regularly received information from at least three media simultaneously. Those who media multitasked the most appeared to be more efficient at multisensory integration. In other words, they performed better in the task when the tone was present than when it was absent. They also performed worse than light media multitaskers in the tasks without the tone. It appears that their ability to routinely take in information from a number of different sources made it easier for them to use the unexpected auditory signal in the task with tone, leading to a large improvement in performance in the presence of the tone.
The study is published online in Springer's Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.