In this digital age, it’s become especially common to have multiple forms of electronic media competing for our attention. Whether it’s texting while watching TV or checking email while talking on the phone, one thing is clear: media multitaskers often have difficulty focusing on just one task.
Studies have shown that simultaneously engaging with multiple types of media can affect a person’s ability to focus even after media sources have been turned off.
But now, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say media multitaskers -- and their truncated attention spans -- may benefit from a short breathing exercise.
The meditation exercise, in which participants sat quietly counting their breaths, was shown to improve performance on tests designed to measure attention.
"In general, people perform better after this mindfulness task," Thomas Gorman, first author of the study said in a statement. "But we found a significant difference for heavy media multitaskers. They improved even more on tests of their attention."
The researchers found that heavy media multitaskers scored worse all around, but both groups did better on attention tests after the breathing exercise; heavy multitaskers experienced the biggest performance boost after the exercise.
Although the effects of the meditation task did not appear to be long lasting, the researchers say its short-term effects could be useful. The effects suggest that heavy media multitaskers can, in fact, be extracted from their state of divided attention.
“One thing the presence of the short-term effects suggest is that the attentional system in heavy media multitaskers isn't intractably affected. It is possible for heavy media multitaskers to adopt a more focused attentional state,” explains C. Shawn Green, UW-Madison psychology professor and senior author of the study.
The researchers believe further research could help discover whether the approach can be modified to drive a more lasting improvement.
The study was published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.