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For other uses, see multitasking (disambiguation)
Media multitasking involves using TV, the Web, radio, telephone, print, or any other media in conjunction with another. Also referred to as "simultaneous media use," or "multicommunicating," this behavior has emerged as increasingly common, especially among younger media users. The shift toward more frequent multitasking occurred basically at the turn of the century (around year 2000)  and media multitasking still continues to gain popularity among young people and especially students.
Wallis describes a survey by Donald F. Roberts and others for the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that kids' multitasking led them to pack a daily average of 8.5 hours of media viewing into 6.5 hours of time spent interacting with electronic media.</ref> and has gained significant attention in media usage measurement, especially as a new opportunity for cross-media advertising.
The expression second screen is used in conjunction with media multitasking.
Much of this multitasking is not inherently coupled or coordinated except by the user. For example a user may be browsing the Web, listening to music playing video games, using e-mail, or talking on the phone while watching TV. More directly coordinated forms of media multitasking are emerging in the form of "coactive media" and particularly "coactive TV."
A touchstone 2009 study by Stanford University published in PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, “Cognitive control in media multitaskers,” used experiments to compare heavy media multitaskers to light media multitaskers in terms of their cognitive control and ability to process information. Findings from the experiment include: 1) When intentionally distracting elements were added to experiments, heavy media multitaskers were on average 77 milliseconds slower than their light media multitasker counterparts at identifying changes in patterns; 2) In a longer-term memory test that invited participants to recall specific elements from earlier experiments, the high media multitaskers more often falsely identified the elements that had been used most frequently as intentional distracters; 3) In the presence of distracting elements, high media multitaskers were 426 milliseconds slower than their counterparts to switch to new activities and 259 milliseconds slower to engage in a new section of the same activity. The researchers conclude that the experiments “suggest that heavy media multitaskers are distracted by the multiple streams of media they are consuming, or, alternatively, that those who infrequently multitask are more effective at volitionally allocating their attention in the face of distractions.” This slowing in performance that can be seen when people multitask is called interference in the Cognitive Bottleneck Theory (CBT). According to this theory, people have only a limited amount of cognitive resources, which allows us to only focus and complete one task at a time. When people try to do several things at once, or multitask, their performance suffers because the completion of their tasks slowed down, due to a constraint called a cognitive bottleneck. A good metaphor to describe the cognitive bottleneck is that of a traffic jam. When an accident occurs on a highway, and several lanes of cars are forced to pass through a single lane, the traffic slows down. Over the decades of research, researchers tried to disprove this theory. Although scientists found a handful of activities that people can do at the same time without slowing, these activities are so simple and so far removed from what people normally do, they cannot be used as support for people's ability to multitask. In fact, a top team of researchers (from top universities and NASA) reviewed the extensive literature on multitasking and concluded that hundreds of studies show that slowing will happen when people try to multitask, and even many of the studies that were designed to show that people can multitask without interference still showed that they CANNOT multitask. Therefore, these researchers warn people that when they attempt to multitask, especially when doing complex and potentially dangerous tasks (such as driving and using their cell-phones to talk or text), they will always encounter the bottleneck which will cause their performance to suffer, either by being slower than usual or by making more mistakes.
A related article, "Breadth-biased versus focused cognitive control in media multitasking behaviors," also published in PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, notes that the prevalence of this phenomenon leads "to a question about the required skills and expertise to function in society. Society with its ever-increasing complexity seems to move people toward juggling among multiple tasks rather than focusing on one task for a long period." Further research, the study's author suggests, will be necessary as the effects on society become more pronounced: "The new technologies are gearing people, especially young people who grow up with digital technologies and wired networks, toward breadth-biased information processing behavior rather than linear in-depth study behavior. A long-term exposure to media multitasking is expected to produce both positive and negative outcomes on cognitive, emotional, and social development."
Despite of what research on actual multitasking abilities reviewed above shows, people from younger generations feel that multitasking is easy, even "a way of life", that they are good at it, and they spend a lot of their time engaged in one form of multitasking or another (for example, watching TV while doing homework, listening to music while doing homework, or even all three things at once). This is unlike people from older generations who understand and openly admit that they are not very good at multitasking, who see multitasking as difficult, and who therefore don't multitask nearly as much as young people.
Multitasking behaviour in the workfforce has been increasing steadily since the 1990’s, as people have more easier and therefore faster access to information, and communication, through smart technologies that also become cheaper over time. Although multitasking behaviour has a negative impact on performance, the paradox is that organizational productivity is increasing at a high rate nonetheless. Concurrent with increased multitasking in the workforce and the subsequent rise in productivity and just multitasking in general, the literature has witnessed progressively more reports of increased stress, loss of focus, symptoms resembling Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)  and even lowering of IQ.
Research on media multitasking in real-world settings focuses mostly on using cell-phones while driving. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that talking on a phone while driving is very dangerous, many times leading to crashes, even fatal ones to both drivers and pedestrians. Only 1 hour of talking on a cell-phone per month while driving increases the risk of crashing by 400-900%. On the other hand, people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in some kind of an accident. A large review of studies on driving while media multitasking showed that using a hands-free phone while driving is just as dangerous as using a hand-held phone, and results in many different driving mistakes including missing stop signs, forgetting to reduce speed when necessary, and following too closely, among many others. Media multitasking with other technologies, including MP3 players, voice-based email, the music system, and even the GPS while driving is just as distracting as using a phone. This is an especially important piece of information considering that using such technologies, including a hands-free phone while driving is legal in most of the states in the U.S.A. and most Canadian provinces. Talking to a person on a cell-phone while driving is not the same as having a conversation with a passenger, as adult passengers (but not children) often warn the driver of possible dangers, or at least stop talking when the driving conditions are tough, to let the driver focus on the road.
There has been some research conducted on the effects of media multitasking on other cognitive outcomes such as learning. Mayer and Moreno have studied the phenomenon of cognitive load in multimedia learning extensively and have concluded that it is difficult, and possibly impossible to learn new information while engaging in multitasking. Junco and Cotten examined how multitasking affects academic success and found that students who engaged in more multitasking reported more problems with their academic work. A more recent study on the effects of multitasking on academic performance found that using Facebook and text messaging while studying were negatively related to student grades, while online searching and emailing were not. These negative effects of media multitasking on learning have been observed in a number of studies.
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