“Increases in alpha power in the back of your skull have been related to attention lapses, mind wandering, distractibility and so forth,” said study lead author Kevin Madore, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Memory Lab. “We also know that constrictions in pupil diameter — in particular before you do different tasks — are related to failures of performance like slower reaction times and more mind wandering.”
The research team measured differences in the participants' ability to sustain attention by studying how well subjects were able to identify a gradual change in an image. The subjects' media multitasking ability was assessed by having them report how well they could engage with multiple media sources, like texting and watching television, within a given hour.
The scientists then compared memory performance among the individuals and found those with lower sustained attention ability and heavier media multitaskers both performed worse on memory tasks.
Wagner and Madore emphasize their work demonstrates a correlation, not causation. “We can’t say that heavier media multitasking causes difficulties with sustained attention and memory failures,” Streiff quoted Madore as saying. “though we are increasingly learning more about the directions of the interactions.”