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In the study of the human brain’s ability to multitask, there are two perspectives: concurrent multitasking (performing multiple tasks simultaneously) and sequential multitasking (switching between tasks). The goal of this study is to investigate the human brain’s ability to “multitask” with multiple demanding stimuli of approximately equal concentration, from an electrophysiological perspective different than that of stimuli which don’t require full attention or exhibit impulsive multitasking responses. This study investigates the P3 component which has been experimentally proven to be associated with mental workload through information processing and cognitive function in visual and auditory tasks, where in the multitasking domain the greater attention elicited, the larger P3 waves are produced. This experiment compares the amplitude of the P3 component of individual stimulus presentation to that of multitasking trials, taking note of the brain workload. This study questions if the average wave amplitude in a multitasking ERP experiment will be the same as the grand average when performing the two tasks individually with respect to the P3 component. The hypothesis is that the P3 amplitude will be smaller in the multitasking trial than in the individual stimulus presentation, indicating that the brain is not actually concentrating on both tasks at once (sequential multitasking instead of concurrent) and that the brain is not focusing on each stimulus to the same degree when it was presented individually. Twenty undergraduate students at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University (10 males and 10 females, with a mean age of 18.75 years, SD= 1.517) right handed, with normal or corrected visual acuity, English as first language, and no evidence of neurological compromise participated in the study. The experiment results revealed that one- hundred percent of participants undergo sequential multitasking in the presence of two demanding stimuli in the electrophysiological data, behavioral data, and subjective data. In this particular study, these findings indicate that the presence of additional demanding stimuli causes the workload of the brain to decrease as attention deviates in a bottleneck process to the multiple requisitions for focus, indicated by a reduced P3 voltage amplitude with the multitasking stimuli when compared to the independent. This study illustrates the feasible replication of P3 cognitive workload results for demanding stimuli, not only impulsive-response experiments, to suggest the brain’s tendency to undergo sequential multitasking when faced with multiple demanding stimuli. In brief, this study demonstrates that when higher cognitive processing is required to interpret and respond to the stimuli, the human brain results to sequential multitasking (task- switching, not concurrent multitasking) in the face of more challenging problems with each stimulus requiring a higher level of focus, workload, and attention.
With social technology on the rise, it is no surprise that young students are at the forefront of its use and impact, particularly in the realm of education. Due to greater accessibility to technology, media multitasking and task-switching are becoming increasingly prominent in learning environments. While technology can have numerous benefits, current literature, though somewhat limited in this scope, overwhelmingly shows it can also be detrimental for academic performance and learning when used improperly. While much of the existing literature regarding the impact of technology on multitasking and task-switching in learning environments is limited to self-report data, it presents important findings and potential applications for modernizing educational institutions in the wake of technological dependence. This literature review summarizes and analyzes the studies in this area to date in an effort to provide a better understanding of the impact of social technology on student learning. Future areas of research and potential strategies to adapt to rising technological dependency are also discussed, such as using a brief "technology break" between periods of study. As of yet, the majority of findings in this research area suggest the following: multitasking while studying lengthens the time required for completion; multitasking during lectures can affect memory encoding and comprehension; excessive multitasking and academic performance are negatively correlated; metacognitive strategies for studying have potential for reducing the harmful effects of multitasking; and the most likely reason students engage in media-multitasking at the cost of learning is the immediate emotional gratification. Further research is still needed to fill in gaps in literature, as well as develop other potential perspectives relevant to multitasking in academic environments.