I was intrigued by a recent paper Cognitive control in media multitaskers in the highly-regarded journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked at the information processing styles of self-reported media multitaskers, defined as users of two or more content streams simultaneously, compared with those who do not multitask in this way. (I will skirt over the irony both that I was supposed to be doing something else at the time I spotted the BBC report of the research, and that my son has just switched on the TV as I type this review on my laptop.)
In their research, Ophir et al asked 262 University students to complete an online self-assessment questionnaire regarding both the total number of hours spent using different media (they specified 12 formats including TV, online video use, music, print media, e-mail and text messaging) and how likely they might be to use some of these concurrently alongside a primary task. The authors then generated a numerical Media Multitasking Index (MMI) and ranked the students. Those with a score one or more standard deviations below the mean (light media multitaskers, LMMs) or one or more SDs above the mean (heavy media multitaskers, HMMs) were then invited to participate in a series of cognitive ability tests. In total there were between 30 and 41 students taking the various tests, evenly split between LMMs and HMMs.