Multitasking Makes Teens Feel Better—and Worse

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We know texting while driving has consequences, but what about texting while doing homework? Your kids may defend themselves and call it “media multitasking.” So, is this kind of multitasking beneficial or not? The new study shows that it can make kids feel better and worse.


The influence of media multitasking



In order to see the influence of media multitasking, the researchers conducted a two-week study involving 71 adolescents aged 11 to 17.


Every three times a day, the participants are asked to list the main activity they were doing (such as homework or chores), and whether they were doing any media multitasking (such as texting or playing video games) at the same time. Then, they reported if they felt positive or negative when doing the main activity.


The results showed that media multitasking made them feel both more positively and more negatively. How exactly?



Media multitasking makes teens feel better and worse


Initially, when the participants first began doing homework and texting to friends, they felt that they were more willing to do the homework. Finishing homework seemed to become more rewarding. So, media multitasking can make them feel better.


On the other hand, the participants also felt that the homework seemed to become more difficult. They felt more tiring when doing homework. So, media multitasking can make them feel worse.



People can have mixed feelings about a lot of things. Teens may think if they can finish homework earlier, they can have more time texting and chatting. At the same time, since they want to finish earlier, they may feel more stressful when doing homework. That’s why media multitasking can make them feel better and worse.


However, as the participants kept doing homework, and when they felt more positive about their homework, things changed.


More positive emotions make teens focus on the main activity



The researchers found that the more positive emotions the participants felt during multitasking, the less likely they were continue multitasking during subsequent activities. For example, when teens feel finishing homework can bring them reward, they are less likely to continue to text with their friends.


"After a certain amount of time, it may take too much mental energy to process emotional information while trying to complete a task, so the emotional impact of multitasking is attenuated," explained Zheng Wang, co-author of the study.


However, negative emotions did not have any effect on their later actions. This means despite the stress teens feel, they may still concentrate on their homework as long as finishing homework can bring them reward.



These results suggest that if the main activity can become more rewarding, teens may become more willing to do it without distraction. Teachers can make lectures more interactive, and parents can offer kids more free time to do what they want to do. Through these ways, teens may become more concentrating.

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