Media multitasking and sustained attention
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Media multitasking describes a common, everyday behaviour that involves dividing or switching attention between multiple sources of media-based information. In the work reported here, I investigate the relation between individual differences in media multitasking and sustained attention. The over-arching hypothesis is that continually dividing or switching attention between multiple sources of information may work against the practice of sustaining attention on a single source of information. In Chapter 2, I report a study examining the relation between media multitasking and subjective reports of attention lapses, attention-related errors, mind wandering, and cognitive control. I find that media multitasking predicts subjective experiences of attention lapses and attention-related errors, as well as deliberate – and to a lesser degree spontaneous – mind wandering. Interestingly, however, no relation is found between media multitasking and self-perceived control over attention, both in terms of switching attention between sources of information and ignoring irrelevant environmental distractions (two apparent key components of media multitasking). In Chapter 3, I expand on these findings in a series of four studies (referred to as studies 1-4) examining the association of media multitasking with objective measures of sustained attention in three tasks: the Metronome Response Task (MRT), the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), and a vigilance task (here, operationalized as a modified SART). While media multitasking is found to predict poor performance on the MRT, no such relation was found with performance on the SART; a pattern of results that was subsequently replicated. Furthermore, media multitasking was not found to be correlated with performance on the vigilance task (both in terms of overall performance, and in terms of changes in performance over time). Taken together, these findings demonstrate little evidence for a decline in underlying sustained attention processes/cognitive ability associated with media multitasking. Rather, differences in self-report inattention are likely due to differences in task strategy, whereby those with a greater propensity to media multitask are more promiscuous with their attention.