Multitasking while watching television is linked to depression and social anxiety

/// Multitasking while watching television is linked to depression and social anxiety

December 7, 2012  |  Blog

Using multiple forms of media at the same time – such as watching television and playing a computer game, or posting on social media – could be linked to depression and anxiety, researchers in the US have found.

Mark Becker, lead researcher at Michigan State University, said he was surprised to find such a clear association between mental health and media multitasking.

However, he said researchers didn’t know if multitasking is causing symptoms of anxiety, or whether people who are depressed and anxious turn to multitasking as a form of distraction.

The research, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, found that increased media multitasking was associated with higher depression and social anxiety symptoms.

The research says: ‘The growing trend of multitasking with media may represent a unique risk factor for mental health problems related to mood and anxiety.

‘Further, the results strongly suggest that future research investigating the impact of media use on mental health needs to consider the role that multitasking with media plays in the relationship.’

The researchers noted that spending too much time in front of screens can mean less time spent on social activities, when young people deal with each other face to face.

‘This finding implies that a thorough understanding of the association between media use and mental health needs to consider not only what types of media people are using, but how they are engaging with those media.’

The findings will come as a surprise to many, as the ability to multitask is generally considered a positive trait.

But, say the researchers, media multitasking was a unique predictor of both depression and social anxiety.

Advertisers and broadcasters have been keen to grab the attention of viewers via what’s called the ‘second screen’.

A survey by Nielsen released this week showed that 36 per cent of people aged between 35 and 54 used a tablet computer while watching television. That figure rose to 44 per cent for those aged 55-64.

Apps such as Zeebox claim to be your sidekick while watching television.

Log in via your smartphone or tablet to Twitter and Facebook and you are instantly connected to hundreds of conversations around your favourite programme.

Becker said future research should explore cause and effect.

If it turns out that media multitasking is causing depression and anxiety, recommendations could be made to alleviate the problem, he said.

On the other hand, if depressed or anxious people are turning to media multitasking, that might actually help them deal with their problems.

It could also serve as a warning sign that a youngster is becoming depressed or anxious.

‘Whatever the case, it’s very important information to have,’ Becker said.

‘This could have important implications for understanding how to minimize the negative impacts of increased media multitasking.’

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