It shouldn’t surprise anyone that all the different gadgets we juggle daily are probably rewiring our brains in weird ways. Watching TweetDeck’s cascade of tweets on your desktop screen, scrolling through Instagram on your phone–all those cognitive cartwheels could be taxing your brain.
In a study published today, neuroscientists Kepkee Loh and Dr. Ryota Kanai at the University of Sussex took a deeper look at the brain structures of 75 adults, to determine how multimedia multitasking might be reshaping their brain activity. First, researchers had participants take a survey about their media consumption habits. Do you watch a lot of TV? Maybe you’re not really watching TV, because you’re poking around on your phone at the same time? Stuff like that.
Then, they used fMRI to peer a bit closer into participants’ brain structures. The team was most interested in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional functioning, as well as behavior.
What they found may or may not shock you: When they controlled for different personality traits in the individual, researchers found that the gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex tended to be smaller. While previous studies have found links between media multitasking and mental ailments like depression and anxiety, Loh and Kanai are quick to caution that their study does not establish a casual link, and more research will have to be done.
Still, “media multitasking is becoming more prevalent in our lives today and there is increasing concern about its impacts on our cognition and social-emotional well-being,” writes Loh. “Our study was the first to reveal links between media multitasking and brain structure.”
If you happen to be one of those people who succumbs easily to distractions, try being a bit more mindful of how you’re spending your time. Or go the Anna Wintour route and get a flip phone. Or just close all your tabs and hurl your MacBook into the ocean.