Partitioning switch costs when investigating task switching in relation to media multitasking

Abstract

The prevalence of media multitasking – the concurrent use of multiple forms of media – has motivated research on whether and how it is related to various cognitive abilities, such as the ability to switch tasks. However, previous research on the relationship between media multitasking and task-switching performance has yielded mixed results, possibly because of small sample sizes and a confound between task and cue transitions that resulted in switch costs being impure measures of task-switching ability. The authors conducted a large-sample study in which media multitasking behavior was surveyed and task-switching performance was assessed using two cues per task, thereby allowing switch costs to be partitioned into task-switching and cue-repetition effects. The main finding was no evidence of any relationship between media multitasking scores and task-switching effects (or cue-repetition effects), either in correlational analyses or in extreme group analyses of light and heavy media multitaskers. The results are discussed in the context of previous research, with implications for studying media multitasking in relation to task-switching performance.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The study was preregistered and the data are publicly available (see Open Practices Statement).

  2. 2.

    We excluded data from 11 additional subjects, all but one on the basis of preregistered exclusion criteria. Seven of these subjects had mean error rates for one or both tasks in the task-switching phase that exceeded 20%. Two subjects did not follow the experimenter’s instructions while the instructions were being given (their data were discarded without any analysis). One subject did not answer all items on the media multitasking survey. Finally, one subject had a grand mean RT in the task-switching phase that was 7.5 standard deviations above the group mean, with 16% of RTs longer than 10 s. We did not preregister a subject-level exclusion criterion based on RT, but we deemed that subject’s data to be highly unusual and aberrant enough to justify exclusion.

  3. 3.

    ANOVA results are reported with degrees of freedom adjusted using the Greenhouse-Geisser procedure whenever sphericity was violated.

  4. 4.

    A reanalysis of the corresponding data from Schneider (2016) also revealed a significant negative correlation between task-switching and cue-repetition effects, r(46) = -.31, p = .030.

  5. 5.

    Our preregistered protocol indicates that we intended to form extreme groups based on the lower 25% and upper 25% of the distribution of media multitasking scores. However, our obtained sample size and the granularity of media multitasking scores did not enable cutoffs of exactly 25%; therefore, we used cutoffs that were as close as possible to 25%.

  6. 6.

    A prominent interpretation of cue-repetition effects is that they reflect priming of cue encoding – facilitation of the process by which an internal representation of the task cue is formed in memory (e.g., Logan & Bundesen, 2003; Schneider, 2016; Schneider & Logan, 2005, 2006).

  7. 7.

    Draheim et al. (2016) noted that switch costs in RTs can have low reliability, which is an issue when they are used to examine individual differences in task-switching ability. We calculated split-half reliabilities in the present study using the RTs from odd- and even-numbered trials and the Spearman–Brown formula. Reliability estimates were .53 and .62 for the task-switching and cue-repetition effects, respectively, which are moderate and within the range of previously reported values in task-switching research (e.g., Salthouse, Fristoe, McGuthry, & Hambrick, 1998).

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Author Note

Haerim Chun is now at Widener University. We thank Nicole Magiera and Julia Woodruff for assistance with data collection. We also thank Susanne Baumgartner for answering our questions about the media multitasking survey in Baumgartner et al. (2017).

Open Practices Statement

The data are publicly available (https://osf.io/z8btw/) and the study was preregistered (https://aspredicted.org/vn2d9.pdf). The materials are available upon request from Darryl W. Schneider.

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Schneider, D.W., Chun, H. Partitioning switch costs when investigating task switching in relation to media multitasking. Psychon Bull Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-021-01895-z

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Keywords

  • Media multitasking
  • Task switching
  • Switch cost
  • Cue repetition
  • Individual differences