A new study suggests more time spent multi-tasking between different types of media is associated with greater impulsivity and a poorer working memory in adolescents.
The study focussed on “media multi-tasking” which describes the act of using multiple media simultaneously, such as having the television on in the background while texting.
But while the activity has risen sharply over the past two decades, little is known about what kind of an impact it has on young minds.
Researchers tasked 14-15-year-olds with a questionnaire.
They were asked how many hours per week they spent on various activities including texting, playing video games, reading, listening to music and watching the TV.
The teenagers were also asked how often they combined the various activities.
Next, the participants had their dexterity, vocabulary and memory tested.
Researchers also measured how impulsive and conscientious they were.
The teenagers were also asked whether they believed their abilities were fixed or whether they could be improved.
Finally they studied the participants’ scores in English and maths, using the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
The results showed the participants watched an average of 12 hours of television per week.
Researchers also found the teens multi-tasked between mediums around 25 per cent of the time.
The study, published in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, showed teens who spent more time multi-tasking with their electrical devices fared significantly worse academically than others.
These teenagers also scored lower in certain aspects of their memory, tended to be more impulsive and were more likely to believe that intelligence is not malleable.
The results extended previous findings from adults and suggest the relationships between ability and media multi-tasking are already established by mid-teens.
Professor Amy Finn, from the University of Toronto, said: “We found a link between greater media multi-tasking and worse academic outcomes in adolescents.
“This relationship may be due to decreased executive functions and increased impulsiveness - both previously associated with both greater media multitasking and worse academic outcomes.”
She added: “The direction of causality is difficult to establish. For example, media multi-tasking may be a consequence of underlying cognitive differences and not vice versa.”