Yearning for distraction: Evidence for a trade-off between media multitasking and mind wandering.


Journal Article

We examined whether providing participants with the opportunity to media multitask influenced their tendency to be 'off-task.' More specifically, we were interested in whether providing participants with the opportunity to engage with an external media stream during a required (researcher-imposed) cognitive task might lead to a trade-off between mind wandering and engagement with external distractions (such as the media). We also examined the extent to which intentionality plays a role in these associations. Participants completed 2 phases of a cognitive task (1-back). During 1 phase, participants were provided the opportunity to concurrently watch a video while they performed the cognitive task; during the other, no such opportunity was provided. Throughout both phases, thought probes asked participants if they were (a) focused on the task, (b) attending to external distractions, or (c) mind wandering. If options 2 or 3 were selected, participants were further asked to report whether these forms of distraction were engaged intentionally or unintentionally. Our findings indicated that, although the opportunity to media multitask increased overall reports of being off-task, the tendency to mind-wander was significantly reduced in favour of attending to external distractions (such as the video). Of interest to the authors, overall reports of being unintentionally off-task were equivalent, irrespective of whether participants had the opportunity to media multitask or not, which suggests that the increased tendency to have an off-task locus of attention was because of intentionally shifting attention away from the primary task. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ralph, BCW; Smith, AC; Seli, P; Smilek, D

Published Date

  • March 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 74 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 56 - 72

PubMed ID

  • 31436439

Pubmed Central ID

  • 31436439

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1878-7290

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1196-1961

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1037/cep0000186


  • eng