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HomeScienceMultitasking between different digital media linked to memory failure, finds Stanford study

Multitasking between different digital media linked to memory failure, finds Stanford study

Researchers studied brain activity and pupil dilation to discover that engaging with multiple digital media simultaneously led to an inability to recall events, even in young adults.

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Bengaluru: Using multiple forms of digital media together, such as multiple devices or switching between apps in the form of ‘media multitasking’, could lead to memory failure, even among young adults, finds a new study.

The study, led by Kevin Madore of the Stanford Memory Lab, found that people engaging with multiple digital media simultaneously tend to have attention lapses and inability to recall events.

It was conducted using techniques to measure brain activity and pupil dilation. The results were published this week in the journal Nature.

Episodic memory lapses

The research team conducted the study on 80 individuals between the ages of 18 and 26. They used the techniques of electroencephalography (ECG) and pupillometry, which measure brain activity and pupil dilation respectively.

The participants were first asked to look at a screen with a series of images, and then asked to rate how much they liked them. After a break of 10 minutes, they were shown more images and were asked to identify if they’ve already rated them or if the images were new. Many images were gradually changed over the course of the experiment.

The participants later filled out a questionnaire where they quantified their every day attention — how much their mind wanders and how much they indulge in media multitasking. These were measured by having the participants report how frequently and well they could engage with multiple media within an hour.

The scientists found that those who reported in engaging in higher media multitasking tended to have more attention lapses, which was confirmed by measuring their brain activity as well as pupil diameter. Decreased pupil diameter is an established indicator of reduced attention, and this was observed in participants who reported multitasking as a habit.

These lapses of attention which occurred just before recalling details of an image were also accompanied with increased forgetting of previous images and a reduction in signal patterns in the brain that is associated with episodic memory or recall.

Also read: Disturbed sleep, brain fog, nerve pain can torment recovered Covid patients for months

Significance of findings

Studies have established the link between multitasking and ‘forgetting at retrieval’ or inability to remember, including specific mechanisms in the brain signal pathways such as cue availability (which triggers a memory), mnemonic interference (one memory being confused with another), and memory weakening.

This is the first study to identify at which point the lapse occurs, i.e., during retrieval of the memory or before remembering occurs.

However, the authors of the study emphasised that their work demonstrates correlation, and not causation. More studies are needed to determine whether media multitasking leads to bad memory or whether people with bad memories are prone to multitasking, they said.

The study has implications for research into conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related neurological conditions. The findings could lead to better understanding of such conditions and ability to treat them, such as having wearable technology that could monitor pupil dilation and could sense lapse in attention and reorient the individual’s focus.

The authors also state that some parameters that influence memory can be controlled to improve recall, such as being consciously aware of attentiveness and limiting distractions, both in the environment and by reducing multitasking.

Also read: MRI study shows neurological changes in Covid patients’ brain 3 months after testing positive


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