Media multitasking is associated with distractibility and increased prefrontal activity in adolescents and young adults

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • M. Moisala
  • V. Salmela
  • L. Hietajärvi
  • E. Salo
  • Synnöve Carlson

  • O. Salonen
  • K. Lonka
  • K. Hakkarainen
  • K. Salmela-Aro
  • K. Alho

Research units

  • University of Helsinki
  • Helsinki University Central Hospital
  • Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study
  • University of Jyväskylä
  • University of California


The current generation of young people indulges in more media multitasking behavior (e.g., instant messaging while watching videos) in their everyday lives than older generations. Concerns have been raised about how this might affect their attentional functioning, as previous studies have indicated that extensive media multitasking in everyday life may be associated with decreased attentional control. In the current study, 149 adolescents and young adults (aged 13-24 years) performed speech-listening and reading tasks that required maintaining attention in the presence of distractor stimuli in the other modality or dividing attention between two concurrent tasks. Brain activity during task performance was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We studied the relationship between self-reported daily media multitasking (MMT), task performance and brain activity during task performance. The results showed that in the presence of distractor stimuli, a higher MMT score was associated with worse performance and increased brain activity in right prefrontal regions. The level of performance during divided attention did not depend on MMT. This suggests that daily media multitasking is associated with behavioral distractibility and increased recruitment of brain areas involved in attentional and inhibitory control, and that media multitasking in everyday life does not translate to performance benefits in multitasking in laboratory settings.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-121
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Attention, fMRI, Media multitasking, Prefrontal cortex

ID: 3054284