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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.4 Multitasking as a new way of learning

The problem with multitasking is the need to keep changing backwards and forwards from one activity to another, switching your thoughts between tasks repeatedly. Multitasking with a phone is so prevalent among those with access to these technologies that one study even called it the ‘epidemic of distraction’ (Valkenburg, 2011). The question whether heavy multitaskers disadvantage their future development is taken up by Lui and Wong (2012), who show the negative consequences of multitasking. Children have been shown to perform poorly in certain cognitive tasks involving task switching, selective attention and working memory, possibly because they tend to pay superficial attention to lots of information all at the same time without focusing sufficiently on the information that is most relevant to the task (Lui and Wong, 2012). You can imagine the media headline related to this: ‘Modern kids unable to focus due to distractions’ or similar.

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Figure 4 Perhaps video games can make us more alert and improve learning.

Again, however, not all experts agree that multitasking is bad for children. Some scientific studies (Granic, Lobel and Engels, 2014; Cardoso-Leite, Green and Bavelier, 2015) have also shown positive effects of multitasking.

In video games, for example, children need to focus on several things at any one time and learn simply by trying things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Many video games rely on this type of trial-and-error learning, which offers regular rewards and reinforcements that improve learning. Researchers have found that playing video games can be beneficial as they can promote divided attention skills, a sound foundation for multitasking. Playing games can even help promote alertness, quick reactions and thus may contribute to healthy brain development, although there is no solid evidence for this.