Media multitasking may be negatively affecting young adults' memory - study

How many of us pull out our phones for a scroll while bingeing the latest Netflix series? Well, according to new research, that habit may be impacting young adults' memory.

A new US paper published in journal Nature this week has found that engaging with multiple forms of digital media simultaneously - also known as media multitasking - could be having a negative effect on the memory performance of young adults.

It also suggests that "heavy media multitasking" is associated with "an increase in attention lapses and forgetting". A media release on the study gives an example of this as prolonged television watching while also texting and surfing the web.

"The reasons behind human forgetfulness, and why some individuals remember better than others, have long been questioned," the statement says.

"With the rise of today’s digital culture, understanding how media multitasking relates to differences in episodic memory (memory of events) adds to these longstanding questions."

The peer-reviewed study from Stanford University saw a group of 80 adults aged between 18 and 26 briefly presented with images of objects on a computer screen.

After 10 minutes, the participants were shown a second round of images and were asked to identify if they were bigger or smaller, more pleasant or unpleasant, or if they had seen the image before or not compared to the previous set.

"Attention lapses were assessed by measuring changes in brainwave activity and pupil diameter. Participants also answered questionnaires that measured their weekly media multitasking engagement, symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsivity, video game usage, attention and mind wandering tendencies."

It found that lapses in attention "in the moment prior to remembering" were related to a "reduction in the neural signals of memory, along with forgetting".

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker told The AM Show on Thursday that media multitasking is very common.

"It's almost a badge of honour. How many devices can you be running at once and how many things can you be paying attention to," he said.

"For a lot of people, they will be thinking, one, does it matter? My memory is slightly worse but my phone tells me the stuff I need to remember anyway.

"Secondly, does it apply to everybody?."

He said the study was fascinating as research is starting to look into the mass-effect of technology.

"We have seen stuff where people believe it is making us more anxious, the fact that we are all on social media all of the time. Now, we are being told that our memories are getting slightly worse."

Find the full study here.