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Technological multitasking fosters dopamine addiction

Multitasking with electronic devices impairs efficiency and alters brain function. | Aaron Fooks/THE CHIMES

 

Recent studies have shown that while many college students feel pressured to direct their attention and focus in many directions, this increases distractions and leads to inefficiency.

AN ISSUE OF OVERSTIMULATION

In an excerpt from his book “The Organized Mind,” neuroscientist Daniel Levitin expresses that technological multitasking leads to overstimulation, conditioning the part of the brain used for focus to become easily distracted.

“[Technological] multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation,” wrote Levitin.

Tania Abouezzeddine, assistant professor of psychology, said that this dopamine reward loop encourages distraction and decreases productivity, quality and efficiency.

“Using multiple forms of technology, even though it feels like you are being more productive, research shows you are actually less productive,” said Abouezzeddine.

AWARENESS LEADS TO DISTRACTION

Students are likely to feel a strong need to quickly respond to emails and texts because it provides gratification from the dopamine reaction, Abouezzeddine said. If a student is aware that a text or email sits unread in their inbox or they want to check their Facebook notifications, they will be distracted from the task at hand. These occupy a place in the mind that prevents the person from their tasks, and therefore decreases productivity.

Another type of technological multitasking that is common for students is listening to music or watching television while they are doing homework or studying.

“The other night, we tried watching ‘Mean Girls’ while I was reading Grudem’s ‘Systematic Theology’ and that didn’t work out well,” said Kathryn Glavinic, a junior biblical studies major.

White noise can be beneficial to have on in the background, but often lyrics or dialogue easily draw the listener in and away from the task they are trying to focus on.  

“If [the music] is in a language you are not utilizing at that moment — let’s say you are doing work in English but the music is in French — it can be easier for that music to become white noise so it is less distracting. But if it’s in English and there are words, every once in a while that music will pull you in, something will trigger you to listen to it,” said Abouezzeddine.

For others, background music can help them maintain their focus.

“If I study when it’s silent and somebody makes a noise, I’m easily distracted. If I’m already listening to something, I’m focused in on what I’m doing and won’t be bothered if someone starts talking loudly or making noise,” said freshman Vanessa Bongiovanni.

This can be beneficial for a student if they were conditioned from a young age to be able to listen to lyrical music while they complete academic tasks. Abouezzeddine said that technological multitasking is having noticeable effects on students at Biola.

“I know that professors have rules that you’re not allowed to look at your phone or your computer [during class] but I know that students always violate them — we see them violating them all the time. Part of me recognizes that when they violate them, they are violating them because they have not been able to control that addictive process,” said Abouezzeddine.

While this dopamine addiction can have negative effects, it is not permanent and can be reversed through behavioral changes. Students can make an effort to disconnect from their phones or computers. At first it may be challenging, but over time their struggle to increase attentivity by technology can become more manageable.

“We have to intentionally decide to disconnect, and reconnect when we need it, but not allow [technology] to control us, but us to control it,” said Abouezzeddine.

 

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