Do Twitter And TV Shrink Your Brain?

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acc-multitaskingAsk any marketer what’s hot in consumer television viewing habits, and you’ll likely get “multiple screens” as a top response. Lots of people don’t just watch TV today, they also have a phone and/or tablet active, too. If it’s a live show, they may comment on the program using hashtags to connect with other viewers. Or, they may just load up Candy Crush on their phone while keeping one eye on the big screen.

For brands, this multi-screen action offers new ways to build visibility and interact with consumers, as Oreo famously did when the lights went out at the Super Bowl. (Behind The Scenes Of Oreo’s Real-Time Super Bowl Slam Dunk by Jennifer Rooney at Forbes.com.)

Multitasking-induced Shrinkage?

But, multiple screens may have a dark side. New research shows that individuals who frequently use multiple screens at the same time have less gray matter in one area of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

This ACC is associated with cognition and emotional control.

Although scientists agree that our behaviors can change our brains (e.g., practicing a musical instrument for hours per day), this research doesn’t conclusively prove that media multitasking shrinks our ACC. It’s also possible that people with smaller ACCs have more difficulty focusing on one thing without being distracted by another device.

Or, perhaps, people with smaller ACCs choose television programming that isn’t overly demanding, making multi-tasking easier.

Take No Chances?

Despite the lack of clarity in the correlation vs. causation question here, if you turn on the TV it might be time to put down the phone or tablet and just focus on the big screen. If the program can’t keep your brain occupied and your hand keeps reaching for your phone, reconsider your choice of programs and grab the remote control instead.

Or, put all the screens away and read a good book!

6 Comments
  1. Beth North says

    Hi Roger!
    Just got back to the office from South Bend Rotary where Dr. Alfred Guillaume was the program speaker on the subject of what South Bend’s Chapter of 100 Black Men does for its 35+ mentees ranging in age from grade 2-12. Read your article, which relates to an NPR story I heard last week regarding the frontal cortex development of enhanced self control and ability to focus and concentrate that growing up bi-lingual contributes to. State of Utah has been enabling Chinese immersion in the their elementary and secondary schools and there is a lot of evidence now that supports this. You mention the brain development that results from hours of practicing instrumental music — which is also another language. Maybe the best thing we can do for the health of our US society’s children and their brains is to immerse them in a second language in addition to American English starting in Kindergarten. Thoughts?

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Beth, there’s certainly evidence that learning a second language is good for the brain. Learning any skill changes the brain, but the most desirable types of training have an impact outside their specific domain. I.e., learning to play the piano will definitely change my brain wiring in ways related to music, motor skills involving my fingers, etc. But, if it also helps me learn math, then it’s even more desirable. (Music and math skills do seem to correlate, though I don’t think there’s evidence that learning music makes better mathematicians.) Here in Texas, there are quite a few monolingual and bilingual immersion programs that teach kids a second language at an age when their brains can form the right connections easily. I’m a fan. 🙂

    2. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Also, Beth, here’s a new study showing the effect of community music programs on children’s brains: Community music programs enhance brain function in at-risk children.

  2. [email protected] says

    I like to blog while an NFL game is on. I feel like I can listen, and if there’s a big play, watch the replay. What about that?

  3. Elizabeth Jennings says

    Interesting article, I think multitasking is a normal thing nowadays although our brain evolves during a concentration session and focusing on a particular source of information. It is extremely important for a child to find time for reading a book or playing a musical instrument.

  4. Arpit Roy says

    Whoa ! I have this habit of cycling between my TV, laptop, smartphone as well as the tablet. Reading this was scary ! I guess I need to focus only on a single screen at a time…

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