Heavy multitasking affects brain structure

Posted on September 26, 2014

Media multitasking is becoming more prevalent in our lives today and there is increasing concern about its impacts on our cognition and social-emotional well-being. Multitasking might include listening to music while playing a video game or watching TV while making a phone call or even reading the newspaper with the TV on.

For the first time, neuroscientists have found that people who use multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray-matter density in an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control.

The study used scans of people’s brains along with a questionnaire about their use of media devices, newspapers and television.

People who multitasked more across different media had lower gray-matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This part of the brain, which lies towards the front, is mostly involved in aspects of cognitive and emotional control: things like empathy, decision-making and how we process rewards.

This is, however, only a preliminary study and the exact mechanisms of these changes are still unclear. It only finds a connection but does not explain what is causing what. Although it is conceivable that individuals with small ACC are more susceptible to multitasking situations due to weaker ability in cognitive control or socio-emotional regulation, it is equally plausible that higher levels of exposure to multitasking situations leads to structural changes in the ACC.

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Source material from PSY Blog

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