Social media use while listening to new material negatively affects short-term memory in college students

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Increased access to electronic devices and the ubiquity of social media has resulted in a rapid rise in the prevalence of students “multitasking” while in a classroom setting. While some data indicate the use of electronic devices in class can improve the classroom environment, other studies demonstrate the opposite finding. Moreover, it remains unclear if using social networking sites such as Instagram impacts performance on cognitive tasks when students are presented new material and, if so, what features of Instagram modulate this response. Therefore, in the current study we examined if social media use during or after being presented new information affected short-term memory in college students. Additionally, we assessed if the type or quantity of topics displayed had a modulatory impact on memory. Forty-five college-aged (18–24 years of age) students completed the Logical Memory Immediate Recall (LM I) component of the Wechsler Memory Scale IV, a measure of auditory recognition memory. Subjects were randomly divided into a group that completed the LM I without distraction (controls), a group that completed the LM I while scrolling through their Instagram feed, or a group that completed the LM I after scrolling through their Instagram feed. Subjects that used Instagram while being presented new information demonstrated worse short-term memory recall ability compared to subjects that did not use Instagram during the presentation (71.56% correct answers vs. 80.89%; p = 0.01). Recall ability in the group that used Instagram after hearing the story was not statistically different from the controls. Differences were not observed in the number of topics appearing in subjects’ Instagram feeds and no correlation was found between the number of topics on a subject's Instagram feed and memory recall ability. Collectively, these results suggest that individuals who use their phones to browse Instagram during class or in social settings might have a reduced ability to retain the information given to them when compared to those that are not using their phones scrolling on social media.

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