Are you one of those master multitaskers who can text while talking or read emails while chatting on the phone? It's a highly valued skill in today's marketplace, but new research shows using multiple devices at once is linked to lower gray-matter density in one particular region of the brain.
Previous research has shown that multitasking may be associated with poor attention skills and even depression and anxiety. This is one of the first studies to show a direct link between the behavior and the physical structure of the brain.
"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," said neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh in a press release. "Our study was the first to reveal links between media multitasking and brain structure."
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To measure possible impacts, Kep Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai, both from the University of Sussex's Sackler Center for Consciousness Science, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They examined the brain structures of 75 adults who had answered questions about their use of media, including cell phones, computers, TVs and print media.
Independent of their individual personality traits, people who reported using more devices had lower gray matter density in the part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is associated with cognitive and emotional processing.
Their results were published in the journal PLOS One.
It's not yet certain which is cause and which is effect - in other words, whether multitaskers were more likely to have less dense gray matter in this part of the brain or if multitasking causes a decrease in gray matter density.
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If multitasking is, in fact, the culprit, there is hope yet for people who have to keep at it. Other research has shown that activities like juggling or mastering maps (as taxi drivers in London do) may have the opposite effect -- and increase gray-matter densities in parts of the brain.
So if your life involves juggling multiple media at the same time, you may want to add actual juggling to your list of skills.