Investigating the Relationship Between Media Multitasking and Processes Involved in Task-Switching

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Although multitasking with media has increased dramatically in recent years (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010), the association between media multitasking and cognitive performance is poorly understood. In addition, the literature on the relationship between media multitasking and task-switching, one measure of cognitive control, has produced mixed results (Alzahabi & Becker, 2013; Minear et al., 2013; Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009). Here we use an individual differences approach to investigate the relationship between media multitasking and task-switching performance by first examining the structure of task-switching and identifying the latent factors that contribute to switch costs. Participants performed a series of 3 different task-switching paradigms, each designed to isolate the effects of a specific putative mechanism (e.g., advanced preparation) related to task-switching performance, as well as a series of surveys to measure media multitasking and intelligence. The results suggest that task-switching performance is related to 2 somewhat independent factors, namely an advanced preparation factor and passive decay factor. In addition, multitasking with media was related to a faster ability to prepare for tasks, resulting in faster task-switching performance without a cost to accuracy. Media multitasking and intelligence were both unrelated to passive decay factors. These findings are consistent with a 2-component model of task-switching (Sohn & Anderson, 2001), as well as an automatic/executive framework of cognitive control (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977).

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