‘Media multitasking’ might mess with our first impressions

Researchers have found a link between spending too much time on digital devices and how we form first impressions.

The study examines the relationship between people who use multiple digital devices at once (known as media multitaskers) and how they perceive people they’ve never previously met.

“As a result of smartphones, tablets, and other devices being embedded in our lives, our attention is in high demand as we switch between multiple devices,” says lead author Richard Lopez, a postdoctoral research fellow at Rice University. “Because this form of activity is new to us, its impact on how we perceive and interact with the world and those around us is not well known. This is why we were prompted to explore this topic and conduct this study.”

Indeed, the researchers found a correlation between the use of digital devices and the quality of first impressions. Irrelevant information was more likely to distract people who reported frequent media multitasking when making first impressions about someone they had never met, compared with those who did not engage in frequent media multitasking.

“…media multitasking may be linked to altered person perception in surprising and unintentional ways…”

The researchers compared how 96 college students filtered out unimportant information from their physical environments while evaluating a new person. They collected self-reported information on the level of media multitasking for each student. The researchers then placed students in either an organized or untidy room to see how the different atmospheres might influence their opinions. Finally, researchers asked the students to rate the conscientiousness of somebody they were seeing for the first time on a video monitor.

The study revealed that frequent media multitaskers sitting in neat rooms were more likely to have higher opinions of people they just encountered—rating the person shown in the video as 16 percent more conscientious—than students sitting in the same room who were not frequent media multitaskers.

“Our results suggest that media multitasking may be linked to altered person perception in surprising and unintentional ways, with media multitaskers unknowingly taking in otherwise irrelevant information from their surroundings when they observe and make judgments about other people,” he says.

Lopez says that this study is a first step in finding links between media multitasking and how individuals perceive other people, and that he hopes future research will explore this topic, particularly among kids and teens.

The study will appear in an upcoming edition of BMC Psychology.

Additional coauthors are from the University of Colorado Boulder, Dartmouth College, and Ohio State University.

Source: Rice University