Sunday, September 11, 2011

Media Multitasking and Memory Processes

Media Multitasking refers to the number of media a person consumes simultaneously (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009).  Research shows that people who are rated as high media multitaskerss (HMM) have "greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant stimuli from their environment… are less likely to ignore irrelevant representations in memory… and they are less effective in suppressing the activation of irrelevant task sets" (Ophir et al., 2009, p. 3 of 5).  With HMM being more common today, especially among younger generations, how can HMM effect the memory process?  Listed below i have listed a couple of potential effects to consider.


Memory is load based, indicating that once the load reaches the cognitive capacities of the subject the processing suffers.  One example is when one has reached his/her cognitive abilities, he/she is unable to organize the material to store in their long-term memories.

Memory is selective, meaning that there are a number of stages that information needs to go through before it reaches your long-term memory.  There are various memory models but the simplest is that information is scanned via your sensory processes, then only some of this information enters into the short-term memory, then only a select few pieces of information get transferred to the working memory.  This information in our working memory, in turn, has a small chance of entering our long-term memory only if it has made the right associations and connections to existing memory.

One final short note about memory is that our brains and memories are constantly evolving.

HMM and Memory Processes

With that said, I believe that multitasking does have the potential to change our memory processes.  People have been multitasking for years, the more active we become the more we multitask.  Only recently, however, have we been using technology to multitask - hence the term media multitasking (MM).  

The first point to make is the effect that HMM can have on long-term memory processes.  Our long-term memory is where we store our knowledge.  This knowledge is retrieved by searching through various categories, concepts, associations, and experiences that are in our long-term memory.  This information is retrieved best if they are recalled by the same method, congruency.  If technology becomes a source of your retrieval process, then you would not be able to retrieve information from your long-term memory without the use of this technology.  This problem was identified in Lin Lins' (2009) commentary when she highlighted that the hippocampus was not involved in learning when using multitasking.  This could be problematic when learning is the primary goal.  However, if technology is used to assist one to store information to their long-term memory, to learn, then retrieval without the technology is more likely and learning is more likely to have been achieved - the hippocampus is involved.  Dependency would then be the key.  As long as we are not too dependent on any one technology we can benefit from it and our memories can continue to evolve.

This second point refers to how the Internet and HMM can reflect our memory processes.  Learning is not linear, our brains are more representative of networks, nodes, synaptic connections, etc…  Internet programs have developed tags to represent the content of the material we are interested in.  These tags, in most programs today, are created by the user (by us).  Thus, the internet is evolving into representation of our own memory and thought processes.  This point was highlighted in Lin Lins' (2009) commentary when she introduced Weinbergers' point: "that individuals exposed to a concept in multiple decentralized sources may gain deeper and more complex understanding of this concept" (Lin, 2009,Commentary).  I feel that as the internet becomes more like our own memory processes HMM can be beneficial to our learning.  

To benefit learning by using technology, including HMM techniques, one should consider two things.  Keep the dependency of the technology to a minimum, use technology as a guide and a tool.  The second consideration is to design your Internet connection to model your own memory processes to benefit your learning.


Lin Lin (2009). Breadth-biased versus focused cognitive control in media multitasking behaviors (Commentary).  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 106(37), 15521-15522.  doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908642106

Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A. D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitasks.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 106(37), 15583-15587.  doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903620106

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