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Why young people may be more easily distracted than ever before

Researchers say extensive use of media has led to greater distractibility

Photo (c) Mat Hayward - Fotolia
The rise of smartphones has allowed consumers to multitask and get more things done than ever before, but researchers state that it has led to greater distractibility amongst young people.

In a recent study, scientists from the University of Helsinki tested participants between the ages of 13 and 24 on their ability to perform working memory and attention tasks. They found that this younger generation had trouble filtering out disturbances and sticking to the task at hand.

“[Participants] had a harder time filtering out distractive stimuli. This was also seen as higher activity in regions of the frontal lobe, which can be a sign of excessive strain,” said lead researcher Mona Moisala.

Competing for resources

The researchers theorized that young people who extensively use multiple types of media use brain resources differently than other people. To test this, they monitored participants’ brain activity through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they attempted to complete a task that required listening and reading.

The participants in the study were selected, at least partially, due to their extensive use of several types of media; the findings showed that those who had the most trouble during the task also had the most competition for neural resources in relevant brain areas. This, the researchers say, is a major limiting factor that could help explain the poor performances.

Moisala says that the study findings could go a long way towards understanding how screen time affects young people. She states that additional studies could help reveal how technology affects the developing brain and how negative outcomes could be avoided.

"Taken together, the results from these studies are of great importance, since it is vital to understand how the increasing amount of on-screen time might affect or interact with the cognitive and brain functioning of the current youth,” she said.

For more information, Moisala’s full dissertation concerning the study can be found here.

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