Oct. 28 (UPI) -- People who engage in "media multitasking" experience reduced attention and poorer long-term memory, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the journal Nature.
Media multitasking is the consumption of multiple forms of media simultaneously, such as scrolling through social media while listening to a podcast or watching videos online.
Researchers from Stanford University found that media multitaskers had measurable changes in brain-wave activity and eye pupil size, and that these changes can effectively predict whether a person will remember something they have seen, they said.
The study results may have implications for memory conditions like Alzheimer's disease, and could lead to applications for improving peoples' attention -- and memory -- in daily life, according to the researchers.
"The primary message ... is that the things we do before we remember can have implications for our memory," study co-author Kevin Madore told UPI.
"Lapses of attention in the moment prior to remembering impact behavioral and neural signals of memory ... [and] sustained attention ability may go some way in explaining differences in memory ability across individuals, or from person to person," said Madore, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Memory Lab.
Earlier research at the Stanford Memory Lab identified links between media multitasking and "worse episodic memory" -- or long-term recall of specific events, situations and experiences -- that can be explained partially by individual differences in a person's ability to sustain attention ability, Madore said.
Essentially, heavier media "multitaskers" display worse memory in part because they have lower sustained attention ability and suffer more frequent or severe lapses of attention, he said.
To monitor attention lapses in relation to memory, Madore and his colleagues measured pupil size and monitored brain activity in 80 study subjects between ages 18 and 26.
The pupils are the black center of the eye that allow light in and focus it on the retina, or the nerve cells at the back of the eye, enabling a person to see.
Brain waves were monitored using an electroencephalogram, the researchers said.
The researchers also studied how well subjects were able to identify a gradual change in an image to identify differences in their ability to sustain attention. They assessed media multitasking by having individuals report how well they could engage with multiple media sources, like texting and watching television, within a given hour.
They then compared memory performance between individuals and found that those with lower sustained attention ability and heavier media multitaskers both performed worse on memory tasks.
Increases in brain waves called alpha power -- which occur in the back of the skull -- and decreases in pupil diameter were linked with lapses in attention and concentration. Slower reaction times were seen while performing tasks such as recalling or identifying changes to previously observed items, the researchers said.
These changes in brain wave activity and pupil size were particularly pronounced during media multitasking, they said.
"Heavier media multitaskers showed worse performance on the sustained attention task, and more evidence of neural lapsing from alpha power and pupil diameter during the separate memory task," Madore told UPI.
"In addition, we found a moderate negative relationship between attention lapsing and memory, such that more evidence of behavioral lapsing on the sustained attention task and more evidence of neural lapsing on the separate memory task were related to worse memory," he said.
The findings, however, don't necessarily suggest that media multitasking causes difficulties with sustained attention and memory failures, the researchers said.
Still, they could help shape targeted attention-training exercises or "closed-loop interventions" designed to help people stay engaged and boost memory, according to the researchers.
These approaches could be particularly useful in those experiencing age-related brain changes such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers also envision the development of a wearable eye sensor to detect lapses in attention in real-time based on pupil size and cue wearers to reorient their attention to the task at hand, the researchers said.
"One active area we've been pursuing is examining interactions between attention and memory in aging," Madore said.
"We think that examining brain nodes and networks that are associated with attention and executive functioning might go some way in explaining variability in memory in healthy aging, and in disease," he said.