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The impact of multitasking on visual processing speed, cognitive inhibition, executive function, and short-term memory

Aravind Adarsh Padmanaban, Vivekananth Subbramaniyam, Ravichandran Kandasamy, Rajesh Jeniton Fernando.


Background: The simultaneous usage of cell phone while driving and reading has become ubiquitous phenomenon which can have detrimental effects.

Objective: We evaluated the effect of simultaneous cell phone conversation on multiple cognitive domains using standard battery of cognitive tests.

Materials and Methods: Apparently healthy participants (age 18–25 years) who had no cognitive, visual, motor, and hearing impairments were recruited. They performed visual reaction time (VRT), Go-No-Go (GNG) task, Stroop’s task, and N-back test either during a cell phone conversation or without it, in a randomized crossover trial. The difference in latency was analyzed using Wilcoxon Signed-Ranked test among the paired data which were not normally distributed, while paired t-test was used for the normally distributed data. McNemar test was used to find the accuracy of the responses for all the four tasks.

Results: The latency of the VRT, GNG, and Stoop’s test significantly increased while using the cell phone compared to without using a cell phone (P < 0.001). N-back test had a similar trend though not statistically significant. Accuracy reduced during the cell phone conversation in VRT (P < 0.004), Stroop’s test (P < 0.001), and N-back test (P < 0.013). GNG did not show a statistically significant reduction in accuracy.

Conclusions: There is reduction in specific cognitive abilities (both in latency and accuracy) during multitasking, for instance, reaction time and executive function while conversing through a mobile phone.

Key words: Cognition; Mobile Phone; Multitasking; Reaction Time; Stroop’s Test

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