The Side Effects Of Being Online

Woman on computer looking out the windowYou’re on your computer all day at work. If you’re like most people, you’re constantly monitoring your smartphone as you type on your computer.

Then, once you get home, you surf the web while you watch your favorite TV shows.
This kind of device juggling is a ubiquitous practice, and one that has a name: Researchers call it “media multitasking,” and warn that it might actually be affecting your mental health.

Earlier research has linked information overload—caused by too many devices spitting out too much stimulus—to both depression and social anxiety.

In a new study, experts at Michigan State University sought to uncover the role that media multitasking might play in fostering that link. To find out, they recruited 319 people and asked each to fill out psychological profiles and questionnaires related to their use of popular media, including television, music, email, text messaging, and web surfing.

Their findings? Media overload might decrease your brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant information and ignore distractions. Such poor “attentional control,” has been tied to depression and social anxiety, according to research published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and the Psychological Bulletin.

Does this mean the end of Words With Friends while you catch up on Real Housewives? Not yet, Becker says. He cautions that the team’s research is preliminary, and only shows a correlation between media multitasking and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“It might be that media multitasking causes increased symptoms of depression and social anxiety, but it’s also possible that depression or social anxiety makes a person more likely to media multitask,” Becker explains.

So what should you do while researchers figure it out? Becker says he’s hesitant to offer specific advice before establishing concrete evidence. But taking frequent breaks from daily inundations of information certainly won’t hurt, he says. So if you’re already holding your laptop to read this article…how about you put the smartphone down.

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