Media multitasking and cognitive control : assessing the feasibility of an intervention requiring the self-regulation of smartphone use

Parry, Douglas Anderson (2019-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY : Increasingly our personal, work, and social contexts are characterised by engagements with communications media. Adapting to and coping in this hyper-connected world has cultivated high levels of media multitasking —the simultaneous use of one medium alongside other media or non-media activities. Over the preceding decade researchers have investigated possible associations between media multitasking and changes in cognitive control. While extant research is characterised by both convergent and divergent findings, overall, current evidence supports the suggestion that those who frequently engage in media multitasking are more likely to underperform relative to lighter media multitaskers in a number of cognitive domains. In particular, research suggests that media multitasking is negatively associated with attentional capacities, working memory, task-switching ability, and interference management. In response to calls for investigations considering the remedial efficacy of interventions targeting media multitasking and related cognitive effects the study presented in this dissertation endeavoured, firstly, to investigate existing behavioural interventions targeting cognitive outcomes associated with media multitasking; secondly, to develop a novel media multitasking intervention; and, thirdly, to assess the feasibility of this intervention for a student population. To address the study objectives a three-phase mixed-methods investigation was executed. Owing to the interdisciplinary nature of research in this domain, the first phase involved reviewing relevant literature from cognitive psychology, media and communication, and social informatics to provide a conceptual foundation for the phases to follow. Subsequently, building on theories of behaviour, cognition, media use, and self-regulation the patterns and drivers of media multitasking were considered and summarised through the provision of an integrative model of media multitasking behaviour. While not empirically tested in this study, the model, as a summary of previous research, guided the subsequent intervention evaluations. The phase concluded with an evaluation of the current state of research into associations between media multitasking and cognitive control. In phase two a systematic review methodology was adopted to consider previous interventions targeting the effects of media multitasking on executive functioning. This review aimed to determine, firstly, the nature of interventions assessed, secondly, the efficacy of these interventions in terms of both behaviour change and changes in outcomes related to cognitive control and, finally, to identify the factors affecting implementation. At the time of review interventions fell into three categories: awareness, restriction, and mindfulness. While some were shown to have been effective at changing behaviour or cognitive outcomes, no single category contains interventions which, categorically, produced improvements in attention-related performance. Extending from this synthesis key research gaps are identified, with suggestions for future research proposed. In the third phase, informed by the outcomes of the review and the theoretical basis established in phase one, a novel media multitasking intervention was developed. To produce rich insights into the feasibility of the proposed intervention and related aspects of behaviour with technology, a mixed-methods design involving the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data was implemented. Specifically, to assess the demand, acceptability, implementation, and efficacy dimensions of feasibility, the pre/post design involved the collection of quantitative data relating to media multitasking, demographics, cognitive control, everyday executive functioning, and intervention-application, as well as qualitative interview data relating to experiences and impressions of the intervention. Following from these methods the overall feasibility of the intervention was analysed. While the implementation and demand dimensions of the intervention were regarded to be feasible, acceptability was shown to be only partially feasible. Moreover, for the intended outcomes, the intervention was shown not to be effective. No evidence to support the targeted improvements in cognitive control ability were found. Despite this, the intervention was seen to bring about behavioural changes and engender increased instances of single-tasking. This was seen to be a positive outcome and prompts consideration of the differences between state-level effects and trait-level effects. Consequently, it is proposed that, as an intervention targeting improvements in cognitive control, the assessed procedures are not feasible but, as an intervention targeting alignment between media behaviour and longer-term goals, preliminary support for its feasibility was shown. While many of the findings are particularly nuanced and open up new questions, the outcomes hold a number of important implications for research and practice in a variety of domains. The study findings are of interest because of their relevance for research concerning media multitasking interventions, associations between media multitasking and cognitive control and, more generally, behaviour with technology.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Ons persoonlike, werk en sosiale kontekste word toenemend gekenmerk deur die konstante gebruik van kommunikasiemedia. Aanpassing aan en omgaan met hierdie hipergekoppelde wêreld het hoë vlakke van media multitasking — die gelyktydige gebruik van een medium gelyktydig met ander media- of nie-media-aktiwiteite — gekweek. Tydens die afgelope dekade het navorsers ondersoek ingestel na moontlike assosiasies tussen media multitasking en veranderinge in kognitiewe beheer. Alhoewel bestaande navorsing gekenmerk word deur beide konvergente en divergente bevindings, ondersteun die huidige bewyse die feit dat diegene wat gereeld media multitask swakker presteer as ongereelde media multitaskers in ’n aantal kognitiewe domeine. Navorsing dui spesifiek daarop dat media multitasking negatief assosieer met aandagskapasiteit, werkende geheue, taak-wisselingsvermoë, en die bestuur van afleidings. In reaksie op oproepe vir ondersoeke oor die remediërende doeltreffendheid van intervensies wat gerig is op media-multitasking en verwante kognitiewe effekte, het die studie wat in hierdie proefskrif aangebied word, eerstens, bestaande gedragsintervensies wat fokus op kognitiewe uitkomste wat geassosieer word met media multitasking ondersoek; tweedens, ’n nuwe media-multitasking-intervensie ontwikkel; en derdens, die uitvoerbaarheid van hierdie intervensie vir ’n studentepopulasie evalueer. Om die studie se doelwitte te beriek, is ’n drie-fase gemengde-metodes ondersoek uitgevoer. As gevolg van die interdissiplinêre aard van navorsing binne hierdie domein, het die eerste fase die hersiening van relevante literatuur behels. ’n Versameling literatuur uit kognitiewe sielkunde, media- en kommunikasiestudies en sosiale informatika is hersien om ’n konseptuele basis vir die volgende fases te ontwikkel. Gebaseer daarop word die patrone en drywers van media multitasking identifiseer en beskryf met verwysing na teorie´’e van gedrag, kognisie, mediagebruik en selfregulering. Dit word opgesom deur ’n integrerende model van media multitasking as gedragspatroon. Hoewel die model nie in hierdie studie empiries getoets is nie, het die model, as ’n opsomming van vorige navorsing, struktuur gegee aan die daaropvolgende intervensie-evaluerings. Die fase is afgesluit met ’n evaluering van die huidige stand van navorsing oor assosiasies tussen media multitasking en kognitiewe beheer. In fase twee is ’n sistematiese hersieningsmetodologie toegepas om vorige intervensies te oorweeg wat die impak van media multitasking op uitvoerende funksionering aanspreek. Hierdie hersiening het ten doel, eerstens, om die aard van intervensies te bepaal; tweedens, om die effektiwiteit van hierdie intervensies in terme van beide gedragsveranderinge en veranderinge in uitkomste wat verband hou met kognitiewe beheer te bepaal; en, ten slotte, om die faktore wat die implementering beïnvloed, te identifiseer. Tydens hersiening het intervensies in drie kategorieë geval: bewustheid, beperking en mindfulness. Alhoewel sommige intervensies gedrags- of kognitiewe uitkomste affekteer het, het geen enkele kategorie van intervensies deurlopend verbeterings in aandagverwante prestasie tot gevolg gehad nie. Op grond van hierdie bevindinge is navorsingsgapings identifiseer en voorstelle vir toekomstige studies gemaak. In die derde fase word ’n nuwe media-multitasking-intervensie ontwikkel op grond van die uitkomste van die eerste twee fases. Om betekenisvolle insigte te bekom oor die haalbaarheid van die voorgestelde intervensie en verwante aspekte van gedrag met tegnologie, is ’n gemengde-metodesontwerp geïmplementeer. Die aanvraag-, aanvaarbaarheids-, implementerings- en doeltreffendheidsdimensies van haalbaarheid is evalueer deur die insameling van kwantitatiewe data wat verband hou met media multitasking, demografie, kognitiewe beheer, daaglikse uitvoerende funksionering en intervensie-toepassing behels, asook kwalitatiewe onderhoudsdata wat verband hou met ervarings en indrukke van die Na aanleiding van hierdie metodes is die algehele haalbaarheid van die intervensie ontleed. Hoewel die implementering en vraag dimensies van die intervensie haalbaar bevind is, is aanvaarbaarheid slegs gedeeltelik haalbaar bevind. Verder is die intervensie bevind om nie effektief is nie. Geen bewyse ter ondersteuning van die geteikende verbeterings in kognitiewe beheervermoë is gevind nie. Ten spyte hiervan het die intervensie gedragsveranderinge en verhoogde gevalle van single-tasking teweeg te bring. Dit is ’n positiewe uitkoms en dui op moontlike verskille tussen kort-termyn-vlak effekte en eienskaps-vlak effekte. Gevolglik word voorgestel dat, as ’n intervensie gerig op verbeterings in kognitiewe beheer, die geassesseerde prosedures nie haalbaar is nie, maar, as ’n intervensie gerig op die aanpassing van mediagedrag en langtermyndoelwitte, voorlopige steun vir die uitvoerbaarheid daarvan getoon is. Hoewel baie van die bevindinge genuanseer is en dikwels tot nuwe vrae lei, bied die uitkomste ’n aantal belangrike implikasies vir navorsing en praktyk in verskeie domeine. Hierdie bevindinge is belangrik weens hul relevansie vir navorsing rakende media multitasking intervensies, assosiasies tussen media multitasking en kognitiewe beheer, en gedrag met tegnologie in die algemeen.

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