Teenagers who multitask between using phones, playing video games, and watching TV simultaneously have poorer working memory and greater impulsivity, according to a study published on May 17 in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Consequently, these teenagers perform poorer academically, scoring lower in their Math and English tests.

The researchers utilised the results of the Media Use Questionnaire to 73 eighth grade teenage students from the greater Boston area. The questionnaire included questions that assessed the students’ frequency of listening to music, playing video games, watching television or videos, accessing both print or electronic media, using their phones for calling or texting as well as writing and doing crafts.

The participants’ vocabulary, working memory, skills, grit, impulsiveness, conscientiousness and their scores on the 2012 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System were also taken into account. The team found that on the average, the students spent up to 12 hours of watching TV each week.

working memory

Multitasking between watching videos and using phones can cause poor working memory. Credit: Pixabay/StartupStockPhotos

They multitask between the aforementioned mediums for about 25 percent of the time. Those students with lower memory working scores were more likely to believe that intelligence is not malleable. The same students were also more likely to behave impulsively.

“We found a link between greater media multitasking and worse academic outcomes in adolescents,” says Amy Finn, a researcher from the University of Toronto. “This relationship may be due to decreased executive functions and increased impulsiveness–both previously associated with both greater media multitasking and worse academic outcomes.”

The new findings support earlier research that found a link between adults’ cognitive performance and media multitasking. Moreover, the new study suggests that the effects of multitasking have already taken place when individuals were still in their adolescent years.

Finn asserts that academic performance is not caused by watching TV or using phones alone. The researcher admits that more research with a bigger population size is needed to provide more insight into this topic.