Multitasking? Can’t Focus? Breathe!

Are you a “frequent/heavy media multitasker?” If you, or someone you know, fits this label, read on. I’ll keep it short.

A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently gathered 1,683 undergraduates, identified roughly 50 students who could be described as either unusually ‘light media multitaskers’ (LMM) or unusually ‘heavy media multitaskers’ (HMM), and then conducted additional tests on the LMM and HMM students. In the latter phase of the investigation, students in the selected groups performed a 10 minute task, either a mindfulness intervention or a control activity (see below), and then completed two mental performance tests (the task-test #1-test #2 sequence was then repeated two more times so that each student could take a total of 6 performance tests).

The team* found that, as expected, the LMM students turned in better scores on the mental performance tests regardless of which task (control/intervention) they performed first, and the tasks didn’t seem to affect their performance much. The HMM students who completed the mindfulness intervention, however, had much better performance scores than the HMM students who performed the control task.

*See Gorman, T. E. and Green, C. S. Short-term mindfulness intervention reduces the negative attentional effects associated with heavy media multitasking. Sci. Rep. 6, 24542; doi: 10.1038/srep24542 (2016)

The tasks:

Intervention task: Breath counting. “In the task participants were instructed to count their breaths while simultaneously pressing the down arrow key on the keyboard with each exhale. On every 9th breath, participants were asked to press a different key (the right arrow key) and then start their count over from zero. While counting their breaths, participants viewed slowly moving, animated natural stimuli. Visual feedback was provided if they made a mistake in their count (i.e. if they pressed the right arrow key after a breath other than the 9th breath).”

Control task: Web browsing. “Participants were allowed to alternate between three different websites (Wikipedia, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed), and were told they could browse however they liked, so long as they remained engaged on one of those three sites at all times.”

A related post you might find useful: Reset with 5 Deep Breaths (A Quiet Place, 5 Mar 2017)