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Media multitasking and failures of attention in everyday life

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Using a series of online self-report measures, we examine media multitasking, a particularly pervasive form of multitasking, and its relations to three aspects of everyday attention: (1) failures of attention and cognitive errors (2) mind wandering, and (3) attentional control with an emphasis on attentional switching and distractibility. We observed a positive correlation between levels of media multitasking and self-reports of attentional failures, as well as with reports of both spontaneous and deliberate mind wandering. No correlation was observed between media multitasking and self-reported memory failures, lending credence to the hypothesis that media multitasking may be specifically related to problems of inattention, rather than cognitive errors in general. Furthermore, media multitasking was not related with self-reports of difficulties in attention switching or distractibility. We offer a plausible causal structural model assessing both direct and indirect effects among media multitasking, attentional failures, mind wandering, and cognitive errors, with the heuristic goal of constraining and motivating theories of the effects of media multitasking on inattention.

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  1. Five subjects were removed due to missing data and nine subjects had their responses changed from fractions or strings to their equivalent digit representations for data analysis purposes.


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This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant to DS, and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship to BR. We would like to thank Jonathan Carriere for programming assistance.

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Correspondence to Brandon C. W. Ralph.

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Ralph, B.C.W., Thomson, D.R., Cheyne, J.A. et al. Media multitasking and failures of attention in everyday life. Psychological Research 78, 661–669 (2014).

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