Remember when watching just one screen was enough?
In 2014 more than fifty per cent of Australians aged between 18 and 49 used the internet while watching TV. This is up from just 36 per cent in 2011 (Roy Morgan, 2014). A new meta-analysis analysed 49 studies to find out what this kind of activity was causing on message processing, and found that when people were attempting to complete more than one task at a time they were more open to persuasion and had lower levels of cognitive ability (Jeong & Hwang, 2016).
Predictably they found that tasks that allowed people to control the flow of information (such as reading a newspaper or browsing the internet, as opposed to watching television or listening to the radio) had less of an effect on persuasion and cognitive ability.
However, if they were consuming information via channels that were physically close to each other (such as browsing the internet on two computer screens) or if the information was relevant to each other (such as homework tasks) this had less of an impact.
These findings make sense because the interaction of the two variables of cognitive ability and persuasion are related to each other. When people are not able to fully engage their cognition (perhaps because they have been distracted by multiple tasks), they are not able to engage logical counterarguments and therefore are easier to persuade via the peripheral route (Petty, et al., 1975).
What is unclear of course is whether this level of persuasion will actually lead to changes in behaviour. Will a person is browsing the internet when watching a TV advertisement for shoes, buy those shoes later or will they reconsider the impact of that advertisement and engage counterarguments at the point of the desired behaviour?
Ultimately the point of most communications activities is to change behaviour so while these findings are interesting from a mechanistic point of view they are not yet generally applicable in the real world.
- Jeong, S.-H. & Hwang, Y., 2016. Media Multitasking Effects on Cognitive vs Attitudinal Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis. Human Communication Research, pp. 1-20.
- Petty, R. E., Wells, G. L. & Brock, T. C., 1975. Distraction can enhance or reduce yielding to propaganda: Thought disruption versus effort justification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34(5), pp. 874-884.
- Roy Morgan, 2014. Multi-screening internet with television on the rise, Melbourne: Roy Morgan.