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Attention, Education And Media Multitasking

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Introduction

Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things(Citation). We use our attention when processing a thought and making a decision. However, unfortunately, there has been speculation on how attention and different functions in the human mind changes through the addictiveness of digital screens, especially our smartphones. If attention is affected, and the brain generally, increasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, bullying, etc, are likely to occur. On a daily basis, an average person picks up their phone 58 times per day(citation), causing possible harm to the brain as too much attention is put on this. As the digital world is relatively new, psychologists and scientists are still in the process of finding a clear understanding of the possible consequences with attention and frequent smartphone use.

Numerous sources(Nielsen, Pew Research Center, comScore, SmartInsights) have stated that, “the average person spends over four hours a day on their devices, where half of it comes from the top 5 social media platforms” Nowadays, people sit behind their phones, preventing and disturbing both the cognitive mind and the sociocultural perspective. Making it more concerning, as according to data from Britain, it seems like young kids are ditching their basketballs and dolls for cell phones as, “70 percent of 11- to 12-year-olds use a mobile phone and this increases to close to 90 percent by the age of 14(cite).” It can be noted that doctors and educators are worried about how overexposure to touch-screen technology can impact developing brains. Not only are smartphones very addictive but also very distracting. In 2014, a 15-year-old, Nayomi Mendez, was killed in San Diego when, while using her phone, she stepped into the path of an oncoming semi-truck. These incidents occur as we pump too high levels of dopamine, a neurochemical created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward, while we scroll through social media, creating a desire to seek for more and only focus on one object/subject. It is very interesting how new sources are revealed on how frequent use significantly affects our brain, and creates a danger to society. It is therefore very important and critical to investigate what frequent smartphone use does to attention specifically.

Attention can be explained and supported by two well known theories; Multi-store memory model and the working memory model(WMM). The multi-store memory model(MSM) refers to that memory consists of a number of separate locations in which information is stored. The various memory stores(STM, LTM) are seen as components that operate in conjunction with the long term memory(LTM) through processes such as attention, coding and rehearsal (inthinking). The use of implementing too much screen time can create a disruption in the process of using attention efficiently, influencing one’s performance on a daily basis. Therefore, this can also affect the amount of information we can intake in the long term as attention is a big component in process information from short-term to long-term memory. The working memory model, is a hypothetical model of short term memory(STM) that includes several components in contrast to MSM. One of the biggest component, the central executive, has the capacity to focus attention, to divide attention between two or more sources and to switch attention from one task to another(Inthinking). Therefore, it is extremely important to investigate whether attention is being affected with frequent smartphone users, as it may create obstacles in switching task, multitask, and store memory efficiently, which can affect a lot of other important characteristics as well.

Results from studies on the effects that frequent smartphone use has on attention varies consistently. Some studies show a negative correlation between education and performance with frequent smartphone users, where others show the opposite. As seen in the MSM and the WMM, in order to build new memory, the majority of one’s attention needs to be active. However, studies that explore media-multitaskers and education find that attention is lost throughout the processing of finishing a task. Over the past years, more and more studies have focused on the effects of attention through the lense of media-multitaskers and education, but still receiving different findings. However, the majority of the studies demonstrate a negative correlation, arguing that frequent screen time can affect one’s attention. Therefore, this essay will investigate, “to what extent does frequent smartphone use affect attention?”

Education and Media-Multitasking

In order to fully comprehend how education and media-multitasking explain the effects that frequent smartphone use has on attention, the framework and the correlation have to be illustrated and understood first.

The concept of cognition refers to processes of thinking and decision-making, creating new memory in the short-term and long-term, and processing mental representations of experiences. Cognition is also related to one’s personal experience. As we interact with the world around us, we create mental representations – that is, conceptual understandings of how the world works(inthinking). Frequent smartphone use disturbs the cognition, creating possible disorders or general changes within the human brain. One aspect that has been tested on and will be analyzed is attention.

Attention is an important factor in the cognitive processes, as one has to focus on a task in order to think and make decisions appropriately. When it is disturbed, it is likely to affect other skills or processes as well such as performance, organization, and multitasking. Even though attention plays a significant role in the human mind, it is difficult to be measured directly. Therefore, studies may examine the performance levels, distractibility rates, or areas in the brain when implementing functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, it is usually difficult for the findings to be accurate and valid as other factors may play in the outcome other than attention. On the other, researchers usually use target population in order for some factors affecting the findings to disappear. In addition, performance which is referred to as how efficient a task is done, is usually tested on studies which focus on education.

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Media multitasking(MMT) refers to the act of consuming multiple media simultaneously—for example, having a television on in the background while using a smartphone. In this case, multitasking refers to the ability to perform more than one task at a certain time. In order to do that, attention has to be active. Therefore, if performance decreases from a multitasker, we can conclude, but not fully due to extraneous variables, that attention is not effective. Performance and media-multitasking can be correlated in some studies, as due to high media-multitasker(HMM), one’s performance can decrease significantly than low media-multitasker(LMM). Media Multitasking Index(MMI), created by Ophir, which assesses a variety of different media multitasking combinations, thereby providing an account of the overall level of media multitasking during media time(citation), is also used with potential questionnaires to measure the level of distractibility and overall performance.

Media-Multitasking

A wide variety of studies have shown the negative effects frequent smartphone users develop with attentional process. Different methods and techniques are used in order to enable a better understanding of the possible consequences of attention. Cain & Mitroff carried out a study in 2011, aimed to see how media-multitasking affects attention/distractibility through an isolated attentional process by employing a singleton distractor task with low working-memory demands. Cain & Mitroff found that the link between distractibility and media multitasking habits was associated specifically with individual differences in the scope of attention and not differences in working memory. In other words, in their task, it was found that light media-multitaskers(LMM) used top-down information to improve their performance, yet high media-multitasker(HMM) did not(cite). This difference in performance in the attentional capture task, argues that HMMs maintain a “wider attentional scope” than LMMs. The findings by Cain & Mitroff helps discuss the uncertain consequences with frequent smartphone users and attention. That is, that the findings state that high media-multitaskers, have been linked to poorer ability in suppressing distractors. As a consequence, heavy media multitaskers are able to hold fewer or less precise goal-relevant representations. In correlation, Ophir, an author and psychologist, mentions, “‘a phenomenon known as ‘media multitasking’, individuals who regularly engage in this activity, heavy media multitaskers, are more affected by irrelevant information that can intrude into a primary task than light media multitaskers” (—Ophir et al, 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA106 15583). This was credited through the study by Ophir in 2009 with three hundred and seventeen participants (163 male 154 Female) and an age range of 19 to 64 years old, filling out questionnaires and MMI in different samples. Ophir found that the data revealed that those who reported engaging in more media multitasking(HMM) were less able to filter environmental distractions(cite). This data therefore supports the data found by Cain & Mitroff. As these two studies used a different task and amount of participants but concluded the same findings, it strengthens the hypothesis of the possible consequences for frequent smartphone users in relation to attention. This shows, through scientists and well-founded studies, that frequent users are likely to create a barrier as they cannot focus well on relevant information and aren’t able to filter out distractions, affecting their performance. It should be noted that this is definitely related to attention as focusing and practicing are factors with the efficiency of one’s attention and seen in the WMM. However, it should also be noted that these studies are not experiments but correlational studies, meaning that we cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship but only that two things happen simultaneously.

The current generation of young people demonstrate 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 may affect their attentional functioning, as studies have shown that the overuse in media multitasking in everyday life may be associated with decreased attentional control. In the current study, done by Moisala et al in 2016, 149 adolescents and young adults (aged 13-24 years) performed speech-listening and reading tasks that required maintaining attention in the presence of distractor stimuli(cite). Brain activity during task performance was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Moisala studied the relationship between self-reported daily MMT, task performance and brain activity during task performance(cite). The results showed that through the distractor stimuli, a higher MMT score was associated with worse performance and increased brain activity in right prefrontal regions. In addition, it should be noted, that level of performance during divided attention did not depend on MMT. This suggests that daily media multitasking is associated with behavioral distractibility, increased activity in brain areas involved in attentional control, and that media multitasking in everyday life does not translate to performance benefits in multitasking in laboratory. This is a strength in the study, as the internal validity is high, due to it not being tested in a laboratory and the number of participants is above 150. What is also interesting is that there is an increase the external validity, as some participants still have a developing brain(13-20) and others do not, making it more generalisable to a wider range of ages. In other words, just like Ophir and Cain & Mitroff, this study shows a negative correlation.

Even though there is a wide variety of studies done on media multitasking and the attentional performance, there are also studies which limit our hypothesis. Some studies show a positive relationship between media Multitasking and performance. Such that performance increases more for HMM than LMM. In other words, some studies suggests the opposite pattern of the relationship, that high MMI scores or other tests/observation correlate with better performance on certain attentionally demanding tasks. For example, the two psychologists, Lui and Wong(2012) set up a task that required 63 participants to integrate information from, “multiple sensory modalities”(vision and listening). Their results revealed that individuals who reported HMM outperformed LMM in their ability to integrate the information(cite). This study therefore shows that there are different results in the range of studies that study the same topic, making it difficult to identify an accurate conclusion on the effects of media multitasking on attention. Findings also suggest an attentional benefit associated with HMM are also relatable with studies demonstrating positive in training, through repetitive task practice, in divided attention tasks. Another study which found the opposite relationship that contradicts negative consequences in correlation to frequent smartphone users(Ralph et al(2015), Minear et al 2013), is the study set up by Minear et al(2013) with 53 college students. He used the media multitasker developed by Ophir et al, in order to identify the HMM and the LMM. They then tested both HMM & LMM on measures of attention, working memory, task switching, fluid intelligence, self-reported impulsivity and self control. The researchers found that people who reported engaging in heavy amounts of media multitasking reported being more impulsive and performed more poorly on measures of fluid intelligence than did those who did not frequently engage in media multitasking(cite). However, no evidence was found to support the theory that HMMs are worse in a multitasking situation such as task switching or that they show any deficits in dealing with irrelevant or distracting information, as compared with LMM. Minear’s study explicitly demonstrates that through the use of implementing the same method as Ophir et al, but receiving different results, lowers the credentials of both findings, as it is now unclear whether there is a positive or negative effect on attention. This may be due to the difference in population, age, or region which may have affected the results. In addition, Lui and Wong and Minear et al external validity is relatively low, as the findings cannot be generalized to most of the other studies. Also, both studies internal validity is low as well as only 53 college students participated in Minear et al and 63 for Lui and Wong, making the results not be as valuable as the results which showed a negative correlation.

However, even as positive results may be found in the relationship between media multitasking and distractibility through tests such as the MMI, more studies, and well controlled, support that smartphone use negatively affects the attention. For example, Ralph et al(2013) used a series of online self-report measures, examining media multitasking, and its relations to three aspects of everyday attention, “(1) failures of attention and cognitive errors (2) mind wandering, and (3) attentional control with an emphasis on attentional switching and distractibility(cite).” Ralph observed a positive correlation between levels of media multitasking and self-reports of attentional failures, as well as reports of both spontaneous and deliberate mind wandering. Also, as there was no correlation observed between MMT and self-reported memory failures, the study validates the hypothesis that media multitasking is specifically related to problems of inattention, rather than cognitive processes and errors in general. However, media multitasking was not related with self-reports of difficulties in attention switching or distractibility. This demonstrates that individuals don’t notice the change in attention, inattention rates are higher, without participants noticing. This creates a bigger problem as addicted individuals to their smartphones don’t see the possible negative effects of frequent use.

Conclusively, attention, distractibility and performance are shown as significant factors influenced and altered through the frequent usage on smartphones. Even though some studies may show a positive or no outcome, the studies which show a positive correlation lack internal and external validity. Also, results that showed a negative correlation, concurred with the WMM & MSM, as participants were unable to memorize information due to the lack of attention. Therefore, under the studies on multitasking, frequent smartphone affects attention.

Education

Not only is media multitasking tested to measure the distractibility and attention rate, but also performance in education and athletics. Studies have shown negative outcomes between frequent smartphone use and attention during educational purposes.

The focus on education and performances has been quite popular in relation to attention, as a classroom is a more natural environment and not artificial, which means that it is far less likely to have extraneous variables, increasing the ecological validity. Even though athletics and education are not studied in the same environment/, they do both correlate in what they are measuring; attention and performance. Results on education and their performance may also be viable for the athletic environment. In addition, testing one’s performance in an education environment may improve the external validity as it is a higher chance that people are tested in that circumstance. Adolescents and adults are becoming lazy and not outgoing as they spent too much attention on their smartphones(cite). This also affects one’s performance in any given event as he/she loses their concentration, producing below their standard. Dozens of researchers are aiming to show how smartphones and the internet can hinder or enrich brain functions. Dr. Gary Small, head of UCLA’s memory and aging research, performed an experiment how brains change in response to frequent smartphone use. Dr. Gary made two groups: participants with a lot of computer experience and those with minimal technology experience. Through brain scans, Gary discovered that both groups had similar brain functions while reading a book. However, the tech group showed, “broad brain activity in the left-front part of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, while the novices showed little, if any, activity in this area(cite).” The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex plays a role in switching attention and working memory, meaning that it took more energy to enhance these functions.

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Attention, Education And Media Multitasking. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/attention-education-and-media-multitasking/
“Attention, Education And Media Multitasking.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/attention-education-and-media-multitasking/
Attention, Education And Media Multitasking. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/attention-education-and-media-multitasking/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Attention, Education And Media Multitasking [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/attention-education-and-media-multitasking/
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