Cognitive Pitfall! Videogame Players Are Not Immune to Dual-Task Costs
Doing several things at once is often considered a necessary skill in modern society, but with media multitasking — and multitasking involving demanding tasks such as studying or driving a car — performance may seriously degrade. Studies have shown that serious video gamers may possess superior cognitive skills to those of non-gamers, but does this necessarily equate to superior multitasking abilities? Are skilled gamers really more likely to be part of what researchers have identified as the multitasking elite — the 2.5% of the population that are termed “supertaskers”?
A 2012 study by Duke, Colby and Penn State published in Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, “Cognitive Pitfall! Videogame Players Are Not Immune to Dual-Task Costs,” looks at how gamers and non-gamers perform simultaneous tasks and whether serious gamers were better at multitasking than non-gamers. The researchers devised three simulations that measured driving speed and safety, multi-object tracking and image search skills. Each simulation had two versions: a single-track version involving only the simulation task; and a dual-track version in which participants were asked trivia questions while completing the simulation. Participants were 52 males and eight females between 16 and 24 years old; approximately 32% were serious gamers, 43% were non-gamers and 25% had some gaming experience.
The study’s findings include:
- “All of the participants … performed worse during the dual-task condition, and there were no differences in how they were affected.” None of the subjects, including both gamers and non-gamers, met the requirements to be classified as supertaskers.
- The authors suggest that “there are indeed limits to [gaming’s] benefits” and that gamers’ heightened powers of perception may be restricted to one task at a time.
- In the driving simulation, subjects drove more slowly when they were being questioned than when they were not; however, they experienced fewer accidents overall. The researchers caution that “obstacles in this situation were visible for a great distance before they were approached, whereas obstacles often emerge suddenly in actual driving.”
- Outcomes in the dual-track versions of the multiple-object tracking and image search simulations were both lower than the single-track outcomes.
- The researchers suggest that a gamer’s “heightened visual attention may come at the expense of the attentional resources available to other modalities” such as sound, and that these shortcomings may only emerge when faced with unfamiliar tasks.
“This result demonstrates just how detrimental a concurrent distracting task can be,” the authors conclude. “Combined with other, previous evidence … this highlights how important it is for society to understand the limits of attentional processing.”
Tags: youth, technology, cognition
Read the study-related Ars Technica article titled "Lose the Headset: Gaming Doesn't Train You to Multitask."
- What key insights from this article should reporters be aware of as they cover issues related to multitasking, cognition and the effects of digital media?
Read the study titled “Cognitive Pitfall! Videogame Players Are Not Immune to Dual-Task Costs.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?