Multitasking has negative effect on student academic work

Posted by reyjunco on September 13, 2010 in Research |

The following is a summary of findings and implications from my latest paper with Shelia Cotten entitled Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use to be published in Computers & Education.

Summary of Findings:

  • Student sitting on couch multitasking: reading a book, computer on lap, texting on cell phone. IM users spend a great deal of time actively chatting (120 minutes per day on average).
  • 97% of IM users reported multitasking by doing something else on the computer while chatting.
  • 93% reported multitasking by engaging in a non-computer related activity (watching television, talking on the phone, etc.) while chatting.
  • 93% reported that they had actively chatted and performed schoolwork at the same time.
  • 57% of IM users reported that doing schoolwork while IMing had a detrimental effect on theirschoolwork.
  • Students who spent more time actively chatting via IM per day were more likely to report academic impairment.
  • Students who reported higher frequencies of doing schoolwork while IMing were more likely to report academic impairment.
  • Students who reported multitasking by doing another activity on the computer or another activity not on the computer, were more likely to report academic impairment.
  • Women were more likely to report a detrimental impact of multitasking on their schoolwork.
  • Older students were less likely to report academic impairment because of multitasking.


  • While use of IM may be beneficial for enhancing social connections and well-being, our research suggests amount of time spent IMing is not beneficial for college students completing schoolwork.
  • College students are aware that multitasking hurts their academics; however, they continue to multitask.
  • Based on background characteristics and the ways they use technology, certain students are at higher risk of academic impairment.
  • We hypothesize about the existence of a “multitasking personality” among college students. While our research can’t identify such personalities, our results suggest that some college students may multitask at such high levels that it has become normative for them in many ways.

You can download a PDF of the manuscript here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • Really interesting study. This finding is interesting: “Older students were less likely to report academic impairment because of multitasking.” We always think the younger students brought up with the Internet were better at multitasking, but I guess that’s wrong.

    What did you define as IM? Does this include IMing from a mobile device or SMS? I wonder how much distraction is added by just having a mobile phone next to you while doing homework. I know for me it was one more thing to check on to sidetrack me.

    Thanks for the study, it’s been a while since I’ve read an academic research paper and I forget how much I love going through the stats!

  • reyjunco

    @jennalanger Thanks for your comment. Most students reported they were IMing from their computer using either embedded IM clients in social networking websites (i.e., Facebook) or standalone clients like AIM, MSN, etc.

    One possible explanation about the age finding is that older students might be a bit more aware that multitasking negatively impacts their schoolwork because of previous experiences and therefore, make adjustments to correct for this.

  • roycekimmons

    Interesting, but obviously the limitation is that this is all based upon self-reporting perceptions. Will make for a good precursor to a study comparing perceptions of multitasking to actual outcomes, though.

  • reyjunco

    @roycekimmons Not sure if you read the paper; however, we discuss the limitations of using self-report as well as ideas for extending this research. I’ve got a study in mind, whether it’s feasible is a question only a funding agency can answer.

  • As a recent college graduate, I can attest to this. I would necessarily have to be actually multi-tasking to be distracted. Just knowing that all of my friends are probably online (Facebook chat was huge at my university) was distraction enough, much less trying to chat AND be productive. And those distractions absolutely effected the quality of my work at times. Thanks goodness I only made the “multi-tasking” mistake a few times.

  • As a recent college graduate, I can attest to this. I wouldn’t necessarily have to be actually multi-tasking to be distracted. Just knowing that all of my friends are probably online (Facebook chat was huge at my university) was distraction enough, much less trying to chat AND be productive. And those distractions absolutely effected the quality of my work at times. Thanks goodness I only made the “multi-tasking” mistake a few times.

  • Highered

    I read a very similar article in a different context. The author was talking that multitasking has negative effect on his job (author was an engineer in IBM)

  • DionneDavila

    From personal observation it also has a negative effect at work too. I noticed that I am easily distracted and that is fueled by my need to multi-task.

  • Jenn123

    Interesting study that caught my eye as soon as I saw the study. One thing I found interesting in your research was the fact that women reported multi-tasking as detrimental to their work. One would think that the stereotype of women being the great multi-taskers would have changed that factor in your research. Another interesting piece of your research was statistic that 93% of students multi-task while working on school work. As an educator, that is a very alarming statistic. One question I have, is do you think that multitasking has any positive effects on the generation? One example I think of is the resilience that students have because of constantly learning how to juggle many different tasks at one time.

  • DevonAnderson

    I can definitely relate to multitasking having a negative effect on my schoolwork, except it is not multitasking while chatting. I find that multitasking while trying to juggle motherhood and all of its many demands and dealing with outside influences like that do more harm than good for my schoolwork and attention span.

    But in regards to technology, I also have found that the first page I open to when I log on is Facebook. THAT is a huge distraction and time-waster for me when it comes to learning and trying to accomplish schoolwork. I guess I am also a statistic in that I am one of the students who recognize and agree that multitasking hurts my performance, yet I do it anyway. As a woman, I am also shocked that women report the most detriment thanks to multitasking, because I figured that as super multitaskers and jugglers of all things at once, we’d have the handle on that over the men.

    A question for the field:if students know it is going to harm their performance and do it anyway, is there anything as educators that we can implement into the curriculum that allows for “productive multitasking”. One example I believe would be the discussion on this blog about Twitter and education. Is there anything, like a chat feature for classmates and their educators after class hours (or at certain times) for students to be able to log onto while doing their work, so that they can still feel like they are multitasking and chatting away, but they are actually getting something out of it. Because I know myself, it doesn’t matter sometimes WHO I am talking to, but that I am talking to someone so I FEEL like I am doing more than one thing at a time (if that makes any sense). Ideas?

  • professorlane

    @Jenn123 I would side with you on your assertion that multitasking has become such a prevalent buzzterm that students often “brag” about their prowess. As an educator I do see the downside to practicing being “a jack of all trades, yet master of none.” An addtional detriment, may be that students, in their quest to multitask, take on far too much and are overwhelmed by what would be quotidian tasks because of an inability to focus on singular objectives.

  • professorlane

    Dr. Junco,

    Again an compelling study that simultaneously addresses concerns about student technology use and its effects on their academics, as well as raises further questions. In the study, you mentioned the following, “Or, it may be that the activities that they are doing on the computer positively contribute to their completing their homework.” Toward the end of this finding, a very important question was raised regarding students perception of their homework. How do students view IM and social media platforms in connection to their academics? I know you mentioned that the data doesn’t differentiate between the assumption students place on their IMing with regard to homework, but could educational institutions begin to challenge students to expand their notions of IM and social networking to be inclusive in their academic lives? Studies on engagement center on what Astin (1984) identified as physical and psychological activity devoted to their academic experience. I think that far too often students are being taught that they are impartial to their involvement in their academic experiences, a leave that up to the schools approach. This is incorrect. Possibly, the existing student notion of separation of school and social, has permeated the student subconcious to restrict all things social from academic even at obvious merger points.

  • DevonAnderson

    @professorlane @Jenn123 I definitely am one of those students who brags on her prowess of being able to handle a lot of balls in my court, so to speak. And I also see the downside of mastering none of these things (except text messaging while reading, I seem to have that down to a science, haha).

    And YES professorlane, you hit it right on the head. I often feel very overwhelmed by what I have to accomplish when I work hard trying to be “everything to everyone” so to speak academically (helping others, working on my own work, answering questions from the professor, my family, etc). I think it is this multitasking that makes everyone feel like they have an awful case of Attention Deficit, I know I feel that way from time to time.

    I blame the “instant gratification” of society and the fact that we all need to know things, and need to know them now. I actually miss the days of being able to go to the library and bury myself in books with notecards for hours and hours of my days, finalizing research for projects and papers. Now, with the internet, in six minutes I have just about everything I need on my desktop AND have books on hold from the library AND have another classmate on board to bounce ideas off of and share information with. Amazing how quickly things change, and how much progress sometimes makes me want to regress…

  • reyjunco

    @DevonAnderson @professorlane @Jenn123 Great conversation, everyone. I’m glad that my work has engendered such thoughtful dialogue.

    In response to Jenn123’s question, my rule of thumb is this: if it is a low risk/low stakes activity, then multitasking is ok and may even be helpful.

  • DjfaZER


  • Monalisharma1987

    Is”nt it true?? think then decide….

  • shaniali

    hello every body.how r u

  • The ease and speed with which users can upload pictures, videos or stories has resulted in a greater amount of sharing of creative works. Being able to get instant feedback from friends and family on their creative outlets helps students refine and develop their artistic abilities and can provide much needed confidence or help them decide what career path they may want to pursue.

  • Students who attempt to multi-task, checking social media sites while studying, show reduced academic performance . Their ability to concentrate on the task at hand is significantly reduced by the distractions that are brought about by YouTube, stumbleupon, Facebook or Twitter.

Creative Commons License
Unless otherwise specified, all content on this blog is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This site is using the Junco Child-Theme, v2.0.2, on top of
the Parent-Theme Desk Mess Mirrored, v2.0.4, from BuyNowShop.com.