The article under consideration views implications that modern technologies have for academic performance. The research question appears to be as follows: How do activities based on multitasking and activities that require focused attention relate to distractiblity? The authors have chosen Instant Messaging (IMing) and Nonelectronic Reading to conduct their research. They hypothesized that the more time is spent on IMing, the greater the difficulty is in concentrating on less externally stimulating tasks.
IMing has become an integral part of young people’s life, interfering with other important activities. This communication tool gives an opportunity to keep in touch with many people via computers or mobile phones any time. While having the advantage of an instant connection, “IMing creates multiple interruptions and multitasking demands that might put stress on cognitive processing”. The implications of it are very serious since there is a discrepancy between the capacity of computer technologies and a human brain to multitask successfully. In this study the researchers defined goals which facilitated in testing of the hypothesis: they estimated how much time college students spent on IMing, how they used it, how it influenced the quality of their attention.
The sample of respondents was presented by 115 female and 46 male students aged between 17 and 20. As for their background, they mostly came from white families of working or middle class. It is also worth mentioning that 42 per cent lived with their families, while the rest of them resided in campus. Respondents were given a questionnaire which contained 55 questions related to ways of media use, nonelectronic reading and demographic information.
So, the amount of time (in hours) spent on electronic media use was put on a seven-point scale with the following intervals: 0, 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, 22-28, 29-35, 36 or more. The amount of time (in hours) spent on nonelectronic reading was put on a eight-point scale: 0, <1, 1-2, 3-5, 6-9, 10-13, 14-17, 18 or more.
In order to identify the nature of general media use, the respondens were asked about the frequency of their IM software being on: from “never” to “very often”. Another factor which facilitated in measuring the potential distraction was the number of people they communicated with simultaneously: an individual response. It was also important to find out whether they answered messages straightaway: from “never” to “always”.
The typical IM session was also analyzed. Students reported about their recent IM session. To this end, a six-point scale was used: today, this week, last week, 2-3 weeks ago, 1-3 months ago, >3 months ago. In addition to this information, the researchers registered the number of people who students IMed with, how long it lasted and if they were engaged in other activities during their last IM session. There was also a scale which illustrated the feeling of distractibility: focus-distracted, attentive-preoccupied, engaged-uninvolved.
The final part of the questionnaire was designed to examine academic distractability. It contained such statements as “I feel impatient when I read my textbooks”. Respondents had to express the degree of their agreement/ disagreement (1-5).
In terms of gender differences, it was found that only one variable set male and female respondents apart. Male students played more video or computer games than their female counterpart. Considering this, the researchers made a decision not to put emphasis on gender differences.
As far as the amount of media use is concerned, the results were as follows: 77% claimed that they use the Internet for IMing, while 74% use it for email.
The majority of respondents (90.1%) often/ very often use IM. The IM was on when 73.4% used their computers. A usual IM session was reported to involve 2.93 different people at the same time and last 75.2 minutes. Most respondents (90%) admitted their last IM session was “today” or “this week”. Thirty percent were multitasking, trying to combine IMing and academic work, with the prevalent number of students doing academic work on their computer. Seventy-three percent were doing other activies while IMing. Distractibility scores (3-21) helped identify the correlation between a quick response and feeling distractible. The result was a positive correlation: those who responded messages straightaway felt more distractible.
The results described above confirmed the hyposesis that the more time is spent on IMing, the greater the difficulty is in concentrating on less externally stimulating task. The researchers shared the following findings: IMing is used as a studying displacement activity, it interferes with the process of studying and contributes to developing a cognitive style of shifting attention. The first finding illustrates that IMing is a high-priority activity for students, which consequently does not leave any time for nonelectronic reading. The second finding provided evidence that students send text messages while doing academic tasks. The multitasking definitely creates problems with focusing on academic tasks. The third finding proves that IMing has a significant impact on a cognitive style, which is not suitable for focusing on one task.
The study can be considered exploratory and it definitely needs to be continued at a larger scale. Obviously, IMing has serious implications for the development of the brain and, therefore, new approaches to learning have to be developed.
Laura E. Levine, Bradley M. Waite, and Laura L. Bowman. CyberPsychology & Behavior. August 2007, 10(4): 560-566.