As simultaneous use of multiple screens continues to grow, a Michigan State University study links the behavior to depression and anxiety.
The study is the first to make that connection, the researchers said.
Overall media use among American youth has increased just 20 percent in the past decade, time spent multitasking with media more than doubled, said lead author and MSU assistant professor of psychology Mark Becker.
To assess the effects, researchers surveyed 319 young people on their media use and mental health. Participants were asked how often they used two media at once, including the Web, TV, music, cell phones, text messaging and computer or video games. Respondents also answered established questionnaires that gauge anxiety and depression.
The association between multi-screen media use and anxiety and depression was clear, according to the study.
“Increased media multitasking was associated with higher depression and social anxiety symptoms, even after controlling for overall media use and the personality traits of neuroticism and extraversion,” the study concluded.
However, the study did not address whether multitasking causes the mental health woes or whether young people who experience anxiety and depression turn to media in an effort to feel better.
“We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,” said Becker.
Researchers said cause and effect was an important question for future research. If media multitasking causes depression and anxiety, users could be advised to avoid the practice. But if depressed or anxious people are using media multitasking to alleviate symptoms, no such recommendation would be made.
The study appears in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.