Multitasking makes young people feel better and worse at the same time

Multitasking makes young people feel better and worse at the same time

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Study: Positive and negative effects of multitasking

Many people quickly associate multitasking with stress. However, performing multiple tasks at the same time can not only have a negative effect on adolescents, but also a positive effect. This is shown by a new study from the USA.

Various previous studies have shown that multitasking causes increased stress in the brain and makes people sick. In a new study by researchers from Ohio State University, it has now been shown that multitasking can have not only negative, but - at least in adolescents - positive effects.

Mixed feelings

According to a statement from Ohio State University, the study showed multitasking made adolescents feel both positive and negative about the main activity they are trying to accomplish. However, the study, which looked at the actual multitasking behavior of teenagers over two weeks, also found that only the positive emotions had an impact on whether teenagers later combined tasks.

An example from the study: Adolescents who combined something they had to do (like homework) with media use (like texting with friends) said that homework was more rewarding, stimulating, or enjoyable. However, they also reported that they felt negative about doing their homework and found the tasks, for example, more difficult or tiring when using media at the same time.

Not surprisingly, Zheng Wang, co-author of the study and professor of communication at Ohio State University, finds that media multitasking creates both positive and negative emotions. "People experience mixed feelings about many things in life," she said. "Texting friends with homework may make homework more rewarding, but it can also increase a young person's stress of doing the job."

The study found that the more positive emotions participants experienced during multitasking, the less likely they were to multitask during subsequent activities. However, negative emotions did not affect later actions. The study results were published in the journal "Human Communication Research".

Many young people carry out several activities at the same time

The study included 71 teenagers ages 11 to 17 who lived in the Midwestern United States. All participants reported their activities on a digital tablet device three times a day for 14 days, both media-related and non-media-related. They indicated which main activity they were currently doing (e.g. homework or homework) and whether they were simultaneously media multitasking (e.g. SMS or video games). For each main activity, they assessed the extent to which they had seven emotional reactions (three positive and four negative).

The results showed that the teenagers multitasked about 40 percent of the time in the study while doing other activities. Both positive and negative emotions initially increased among participants who reported multitasking, Wang said. But the longer they worked on a main task and multitasked, the less they felt these negative and positive emotions.

"After a period of time, it may take too much mental energy to process emotional information while trying to do a task, reducing the emotional impact of multitasking," said Wang.

Reduce multitasking

Since research has shown that multitasking can affect performance, the question arises as to why young people (and others) do it. The fact that the positive emotions that the adolescents felt during multitasking in relation to the main task was associated with less subsequent multitasking - but negative emotions were not - is fascinating, according to Wang.

“That means adolescents are unlikely to try multitasking their negative feelings about the main task. They really tried to make the main task, such as homework or homework, a little more rewarding, ”said the scientist.

“It suggests that adolescents are less likely to multitask when they find that their work is worthwhile. Teachers' efforts to make lectures more interactive and attempts by parents to involve children in activities that offer opportunities for play, exploration and learning should help reduce multitasking. ”

However, it is worrying that the increasing negative feelings that teenagers had when multitasking were not affecting use. The negative emotions should signal to them that multitasking is not working well and that they should focus more on the main task to get them done, Wang said. "We have to find out more about why the negative emotions do not reduce multitasking," summarizes the expert. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Ohio State University: For teens, multitasking makes them feel better - and worse, (accessed: November 4, 2019), Ohio State University
  • Human Communication Research: Multitasking and Dual Motivational Systems: A Dynamic Longitudinal Study, (accessed: November 4, 2019), Human Communication Research

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