Media multitasking is really multidistracting
May 3, 2011
Multitaskers who think they can successfully divide their attention between the program on their television set and the information on their computer screen have proven to be driven to distraction by the two devices, according to a new study of media multitasking by Boston College researchers.
Placed in a room containing a television and a computer and given a half hour to use either device, subjects in the study on average switched their eyes back and forth between TV and computer a 120 times in 27.5 minutes, nearly once every 14 seconds.
The researchers used advanced cameras to track where research subjects were looking to understand the physical demands and likely disruption caused by switching between the television and computer.
The researchers said that the subjects were not even aware of their own actions. On average, participants in the study thought they might have looked back and forth between the two devices about 15 times per half hour. In reality, they were looking almost 10 times as often. Even if quick “glances” (less than 1.5 seconds) were removed from the equation, the subjects were still switching over 70 times per half hour.
Brasel and Gips, Egan Professor of information systems and computer science, determined that when it comes to the dominant medium in this side-by-side challenge, the computer comes out the winner, drawing the attention of the study participants 68.4 percent of the time. But neither device proved capable of holding the attention of study participants for very long, regardless of their age. The median length of gaze lasted less than two seconds for television and less than six seconds for the computer, the researchers found.
Understanding the physical behavior of multi-media multitaskers raises questions about the level of comprehension among people who switch their eyes between the devices, specifically the impact on productivity or on children doing their homework. And for companies that rely on TV or the Internet to communicate with consumers, the findings raise questions about the effectiveness of the two channels as means to garner the attention of potential customers.
Note that the study doesn’t address your cell phone, tablet, and other devices.
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