Photo of a young girl media multitasking
A new study shows that using multiple forms of media at once can lead to depression

Online multitasking can lead to depression

10 December, 2012

Natural Health News — Using multiple forms of media at the same time – for instance playing a computer game while watching TV – is linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression, scientists have found for the first time.

For the small study, which appears in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, researchers at Michigan State University surveyed 319 people on their media use and mental health.

Participants were asked how many hours per week they used two or more of the primary forms of media, which include television, music, cell phones, text messaging, computer and video games, web surfing and others. For the mental health survey, the researchers used well-established measures, although the results do not reflect a clinical diagnosis.

Digital multitasking on the rise

While overall media use among American youth has increased 20% in the past decade, the amount of time spent multitasking with media spiked 120% during that period, the researchers noted.

Things are not much different in the UK.  According to a 2010 Ofcom report, TV, radio and internet take up nearly half our waking lives. One reason for this is the rise in ownership of smart phones which increased by 81% between May 2009 and May 2010, along with the rise of social networks which now account for 23% of all time spent online, compared to 9% in 2007.

The report also found that media multitasking is most popular with 16-24 year olds, with 29% of them using different types of media simultaneously, to cram nine and a half hours of media use into six and a half hours of actual time. Amazingly 12% of over 55s also practised media multitasking.

Looking for cause and effect

“We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,” said lead author Mark Becker, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

On the other hand, depressed or anxious people may be turning to media multitasking to help them deal with their problems.It could also serve as a warning sign that a youngster is becoming depressed or anxious.

Becker added that future research needed to focus on cause and effect.