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Facebook, Twitter Might Actually Make You Dumber

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First Posted: May 08, 2013 02:26 PM EDT
Log-on icons for Facebook and Twitter.

Log-on icons for Facebook and Twitter. Credit:Reuters

We live in a world fraught with multitasking. You're probably doing at least one other thing while you're reading this article right now. Whether it's using Twitter or Facebook or checking your cellphone or talking to the person next to you (conventional style), there's no question that distractions and doing more than one thing at once have simply become a part of our daily existence.

But do distractions and our multitasking via Facebook and Twitter actually make us dumber? According to a new study by Carnegie Mellon University, the answer is a resounding yes.

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"There's a lot of debate among brain researchers about the impact of gadgets on our brain," the New York Times writes in an article published on Tuesday, May 7:

"Most discussion has focused on the deleterious effect of multitasking. Early results show what most of us know implicitly: if you do two things at once, both efforts suffer."

Multitasking — whether it be using Twitter, Facebook, talking with friends on the phone and/or watching a video on YouTube (while trying to actually get some work done at the office) — is actually not an apt term, the New York Times goes on to state, referring to the series of activities as "rapid toggling between tasks."

Such "rapid toggling between tasks" also lends itself to constant context shifts, according to the report.

"As economics students know, switching involves costs," the New York Times says. "But how much? When a consumer switches banks, or a company switches suppliers, it's relatively easy to count the added expense of the hassle of change. When your brain is switching tasks, the cost is harder to quantify."

The Times spoke with psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon and psychologist and professor of information Alessandro Acquisti about creating an experiment in which it might be determined how much brain power is actually lost by someone who is interrupted or distracted.

The experiment brought together 136 subjects in three groups. Each group was asked to read a short excerpt of writing that was followed by questions on what participants had just read. The first group was not interrupted, though the second and third groups were.

What the experiment turned up is the fact that Group Two and Three correctly answered questions 20 percent less often than those correctly answered by the first group.

"In other words, the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20 percent dumber," the New York Times said. "That's enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent)."

Though the test was obviously somewhat informal, as conducted by the New York Times and Carnegie Mellon, there's no doubt that multitasking — using Facebook, Twitter, emailing, checking phone updates ad infinitum — might have more negative effects than we know.

Go ahead: Post that.

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