Media multitasking is associated with distractibility and increased prefrontal activity in adolescents and young adults

Neuroimage. 2016 Jul 1:134:113-121. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.04.011. Epub 2016 Apr 8.


The current generation of young people indulges in more media multitasking behavior (e.g., instant messaging while watching videos) in their everyday lives than older generations. Concerns have been raised about how this might affect their attentional functioning, as previous studies have indicated that extensive media multitasking in everyday life may be associated with decreased attentional control. In the current study, 149 adolescents and young adults (aged 13-24years) performed speech-listening and reading tasks that required maintaining attention in the presence of distractor stimuli in the other modality or dividing attention between two concurrent tasks. Brain activity during task performance was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We studied the relationship between self-reported daily media multitasking (MMT), task performance and brain activity during task performance. The results showed that in the presence of distractor stimuli, a higher MMT score was associated with worse performance and increased brain activity in right prefrontal regions. The level of performance during divided attention did not depend on MMT. This suggests that daily media multitasking is associated with behavioral distractibility and increased recruitment of brain areas involved in attentional and inhibitory control, and that media multitasking in everyday life does not translate to performance benefits in multitasking in laboratory settings.

Keywords: Attention; Media multitasking; Prefrontal cortex; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multimedia
  • Multitasking Behavior / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult