Watching TV While Scrolling Through Instagram? Such Multitasking Could Lead To Memory Failure

Researchers studied brain activity and pupil dilation to find out how 'media multitasking' leads to being unable to recall events.

I know multitasking has a bad rap, and that plenty of studies have shown that splitting attention between too many things actually murders productivity and makes you even slower. But I never thought that the 25-or-more tabs I have open on a browser at a time or that my skill of watching Netflix on the TV along with Reels on my phone could be severely problematic.

But according to a new study, using multiple forms of digital media together such as switching between multiple devices or apps in the form of “media multitasking” could lead to memory failure. 


The study was conducted by Kevin Madore of the Stanford Memory Lab and it was found out that people with multiple digital media tend to have attention lapses and also face an inability to recall certain events. 

Techniques to measure brain activity and pupil dilation were used to conduct this study. The team conducted the study on 80 individuals between the ages of 18 and 26, with techniques such as electroencephalography (ECG) and pupillometry used to measure the brain activity and pupil dilation respectively. 

The participants were asked to look at a screen with a series of images and then rate how much they liked them. They were asked to take a break for 10 minutes after that and then they were shown more pictures and were asked to identify if they’ve seen them already, and rate them or if the images were new. A lot of images were changed during the experiment. 

The participants were later given a questionnaire where they were asked to quantify their everyday attention and how much they indulge in multitasking. The participants were measured on how frequently and well they could engage in multitasking within an hour. 

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The researchers found out that the ones who engaged more in media multitasking tended to have more attention lapses than those who did not. This was confirmed by measuring their brain activity and pupil diameter. 

The lapses of attention that happened just before recalling images were also followed with increased forgetting of the previous images. It is the first study to identify at which point the lapse occurs, i.e., during retrieval of the memory or before remembering occurs.


The authors of the study have emphasised on how their work demonstrates correlation and not causation and how more studies are needed to determine if media multitasking leads to bad memory or actually, if it’s people with bad memory who are prone to multitasking. 

This is not the first study to call out multitasking for the scourge it is. One study found that women who described their homes as "cluttered" and "full of unfinished projects" were more likely to show signs of depression and see spikes in the stress hormone cortisol. 

Time to shut those tabs.

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