Minds and brains of media multitaskers: Current findings and future directions

Edited by David E. Meyer, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, and approved December 6, 2017 (received for review September 19, 2016)
October 1, 2018
115 (40) 9889-9896


Media and technology are ubiquitous elements of our daily lives, and their use can offer many benefits and rewards. At the same time, decisions about how individuals structure their use of media can be informed by consideration of whether, and if so how, the mind and brain are shaped by different use patterns. Here we review the growing body of research that investigates the cognitive and neural profiles of individuals who differ in the extent to which they simultaneously engage with multiple media streams, or ‟media multitasking.” While the literature is still sparse, and is marked by both convergent and divergent findings, the balance of evidence suggests that heavier media multitaskers exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains, relative to lighter media multitaskers (although many studies find no performance differences between groups). When evidence points to a relationship between media multitasking level and cognition, it is often on tasks that require or are influenced by fluctuations in sustained goal-directed attention. Given the real-world significance of such findings, further research is needed to uncover the mechanistic underpinnings of observed differences, to determine the direction of causality, to understand whether remediation efforts are needed and effective, and to determine how measurement heterogeneity relates to variable outcomes. Such efforts will ultimately inform decisions about how to minimize the potential costs and maximize the many benefits of our ever-evolving media landscape.

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This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grants R21-MH099812 and R56-MH111672.

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Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 115 | No. 40
October 2, 2018
PubMed: 30275312


Submission history

Published online: October 1, 2018
Published in issue: October 2, 2018


  1. attention
  2. cognitive control
  3. memory
  4. interference
  5. technology


This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grants R21-MH099812 and R56-MH111672.


This paper results from the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, “Digital Media and Developing Minds,” held, October 14–16, 2015, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, CA. The complete program and video recordings of most presentations are available on the NAS website at www.nasonline.org/Digital_Media_and_Developing_Minds.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.



Melina R. Uncapher1 [email protected]
Department of Neurology, University of California at San Francisco, CA 94158;
Anthony D. Wagner1 [email protected]
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305


To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: [email protected] or [email protected].
Author contributions: M.R.U. and A.D.W. designed research; M.R.U. and A.D.W. performed research; M.R.U. and A.D.W. analyzed data; M.R.U. was co-chair of the colloquium and colloquium working group; A.D.W. was co-chair of the colloquium working group; and M.R.U. and A.D.W. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Minds and brains of media multitaskers: Current findings and future directions
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 115
    • No. 40
    • pp. 9807-E9509







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