Individual differences in media multitasking ability: the importance of cognitive flexibility

Alexandra L. Seddon*, Anna S. Law, Anne-Marie Adams, Fiona R. Simmons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Previous research on media multitasking has often focussed on the frequency with which people perform this type of behaviour. Heavy media multitaskers have been found to differ from light media multitaskers in their performance of tasks involving executive functioning (although these differences have not always been found consistently). The aim of the present study was to explore individuals’ executive functioning in relation to their ability to media multitask (i.e., their ability to retain information presented during the session), rather than their propensity to media multitask. Participants (N ​= ​116, aged 18–25, male N ​= ​32) completed an executive function task battery, inclusive of working memory, inhibition and cognitive flexibility tasks, followed by a studious media multitasking situation. Individual executive function task performance scores were correlated with media multitasking ability scores. Greater cognitive flexibility was significantly associated with greater ability to media multitask, in terms of retention of information from a media multitasking situation. Furthermore, media multitasking influenced mood, reducing levels of self-reported arousal. Thus, the present study provides some elucidation as to what cognitive characteristics are involved in being able to media multitask, whilst also indicating a possible cognitive mechanism for negative associations found between media multitasking and academic performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100068
Number of pages12
JournalComputers in Human Behavior Reports
Early online date3 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • cognitive flexibility
  • inhibition
  • media multitasking
  • working memory


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