Media Multitasking Behavior: Concurrent Television and Computer Usage

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2011 Sep;14(9):527-34. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0350. Epub 2011 Mar 7.


Changes in the media landscape have made simultaneous usage of the computer and television increasingly commonplace, but little research has explored how individuals navigate this media multitasking environment. Prior work suggests that self-insight may be limited in media consumption and multitasking environments, reinforcing a rising need for direct observational research. A laboratory experiment recorded both younger and older individuals as they used a computer and television concurrently, multitasking across television and Internet content. Results show that individuals are attending primarily to the computer during media multitasking. Although gazes last longer on the computer when compared to the television, the overall distribution of gazes is strongly skewed toward very short gazes only a few seconds in duration. People switched between media at an extreme rate, averaging more than 4 switches per min and 120 switches over the 27.5-minute study exposure. Participants had little insight into their switching activity and recalled their switching behavior at an average of only 12 percent of their actual switching rate revealed in the objective data. Younger individuals switched more often than older individuals, but other individual differences such as stated multitasking preference and polychronicity had little effect on switching patterns or gaze duration. This overall pattern of results highlights the importance of exploring new media environments, such as the current drive toward media multitasking, and reinforces that self-monitoring, post hoc surveying, and lay theory may offer only limited insight into how individuals interact with media.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention*
  • Computers*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Television*