Smartphone multitasking can hinder varsity students ability to study - research

Dr Daniel Le Roux at Stellenbosch University's Cognition and Tech Research Group tells John Maytham that the research the unit is conducting is testing the hypothesis that smartphones have an adverse effect on students at tertiary institutions as well as his unit.

When we have smartphones with us and engage in media multitasking - and that is basically using our phones to do a number of different things.

Dr Daniel Le Roux, Stellenbosch University's Cognition and Tech Research Group

But also using our phones while we are doing things off our phones, like having social conversations, switching to and from our phones.

This affects our ability to concentrate and pay attention to particular things.

Dr Daniel Le Roux, Stellenbosch University's Cognition and Tech Research Group

While this may be self-evident and obvious to most, Le Roux says research helps to prove the hypothesis.

He says the big issue is causality.

We've seen in our data that some students who are on their phones more often than others are indeed more distractable. But does that mean the use of the phone is the thing causing that?

Dr Daniel Le Roux, Stellenbosch University's Cognition and Tech Research Group

Evidence seems to be showing that high media multitasking on your phone over a long period of time does seem to have a small effect on your cognitive function.

Dr Daniel Le Roux, Stellenbosch University's Cognition and Tech Research Group

While students are very good at media multitasking and are tech savvy, he says, research shows that it can overload the brain.

Research shows that while it might seem we are effective, there is still a performance drop on our primary task. The mind has what we call the cognitive bottleneck.

Dr Daniel Le Roux, Stellenbosch University's Cognition and Tech Research Group

Multitasking simple things is ok, he adds, but once more complex tasks like studying are being tackled, performance will suffer.

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