Technology has made multitasking easier than ever. We can simultaneously watch TV and scroll through social media newsfeeds on laptops while reading texts on smartphones. But all that multitasking could be shrinking the structure of our brains.
According to new research from the University of Sussex, people who regularly use multiple media devices have less gray-matter density in a specific part of the brain than people who use one device at a time.
Published in the journal PLOS One, the research is the first to reveal links between multitasking on different media devices and brain structure.
"Media multitasking is becoming more prevalent in our lives today and there is increasing concern about its impacts on our cognition and social-emotional well-being," says Sussex neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh.
The researchers asked 75 healthy men and women how often they divided their attention between different tech devices. This included sending a text while listening to music or talking on the phone while watching a movie.
The participants were then given brain scans, which showed that, compared with people who used one device at a time, this group had less dense gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the part of the brain that is involved in processing emotion.
The researchers are not sure whether people with less-dense gray brain structures are more likely to be multitaskers or if the multitasking causes the gray brain structures to shrink.
Other studies found that learning how to juggle and learning map routes increased the gray-matter density in certain parts of the brain.
While multitasking with tech gadgets could be shrinking our brain density, an unrelated study found that this practice also shortens attention span, making it harder to focus.