Sana was randomly presented with a seat number.

et al. — QALMRI


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Broad question: Does
multitasking interfere with learning?

Specific question: Does
being in view of multitasking peers negatively affect one’s comprehension of
lecture material?


Being in view of multitasking peers
negatively affects one’s comprehension of lecture material.

Being in view of multitasking peers
positively affect’s one’s comprehension of lecture material.

Being in view of multitasking peers has no
affect on one’s comprehension of lecture material.


If being in view of multitasking peers
negatively affects one’s comprehension of lecture material, subjects will score
low on a post-lecture comprehension test.

If being in view of multitasking peers
positively affects one’s comprehension of lecture material, subjects will score
high on a post-lecture comprehension test.

If being in view of multitasking peers has
no affect on one’s comprehension of lecture material, subjects scores on a
post-lecture comprehension test should be random.


            Thirty-nine Canadian undergraduate students were selected
online for participation in the experiment. The number of subjects was later
reduced to thirty-eight, as one of the subjects would have compromised the
experiment due to prior lecture knowledge. The students ranged in academic disciplines,
however, all were enrolled in an Introductory Psychology course. In exchange
for their participation in the study, students would receive a course credit.
Upon arrival, each subject was randomly presented with a seat number. The
seating plan allowed for the division of subjects into two groups: one group of
nineteen seated in view of multitaskers, and a second group of nineteen not in
view of multitaskers. Arriving at their seats, subjects would find both a
consent form and an instruction sheet. The instruction sheets were placed throughout
the room so that subjects would either be seated behind two multi-tasking
confederates or other note-taking subjects. There were thirty-six confederates
involved in this experiment, who were in on the study, acting as subjects. This
group was instructed to pretend to pay attention to the lecture while using
their laptops to surf online and pretend to take notes. Contrarily, the other
subjects were denied their laptops and instructed to take notes on paper. In the
experiment, students sat in on a 45-minute meteorology lecture. The experiment
was monitored by an experimenter at the back of the classroom. When the lecture
ended, all of the participants’ notes were emailed to the experimenter. At this
time, the confederates left the room; supposedly to return upon a later date to
finish the experiment. Instead, they received a debriefing, concluding their
participation in the experiment. Following the lecture, was a 30-minute
comprehension test containing 20 knowledge based, multiple-choice questions and
20 application questions. In addition, the participants were asked to fill out
a questionnaire containing the following questions: “(1) To what extent were
you distracted by other students’ laptop use around you? and (2) To what extent
do you think being in view of other students’ laptop use hindered your learning
of the lecture material?” (Sana et. al, 2013). This was followed by the last
step of the experiment; the debriefing, after which all participants were

            In this study, the independent variable was the location
of participants either in view or not in view of multitaskers. This variable
was manipulated by the experimenters and would consequently correlate to the
dependant variable of score on the comprehension test. Therefore, the test
scores were related to whether or not subjects’ attention was diverted by
multitasking confederates.


experiment’s results revealed that subjects in view of multi-tasking peers
scored 17% lower on their comprehension tests than those not in view of
multitaskers. As depicted on the graph bellow, those with no view to
multitasking scored about 0.8 on proportion of correct test answers, as opposed
to those in view of multitasking who scored around 0.6. This data concludes that
being in view of multitaskers is correlated with poor test results. However,
the results showed no decline in the quality of the notes of the subjects in
view of multitaskers.



            In and of itself, the results of the study prove that
multi-tasking on a laptop interferes with the learning of surrounding peers. This
result holds true to the first alternative, ruling out the second and third. The
study concludes that there is a certain amount of attention required for
learning and comprehension of tasks. When this attention is diverted, the
individual becomes distracted and comprehension is impaired. Therefore, it is implied
that multitasking on a laptop during lecture distracts surrounding peers,
negatively affecting their comprehension of lecture material.

            However, it is possible that the test scores were not
solely influenced by the multi-taskers’ distractions. Perhaps the study was a
greater measure of conformity. In the experiment, watching the confederates
multi-task and divert their attention away from the lecture, may have inspired
subjects to pay less attention as well. This experiment could have been
measuring the subject’s mimicry of the behaviour of the confederates. Even
though they were aware that they were supposed to concentrate on the lecture,
they could have merely been conforming to the behaviour of others around them.

possible explanation for the poor test results could be the subjects’ awareness
that they were partaking in an experiment. Since they had knowledge that they
would receive the experiment credit regardless of their test scores, perhaps
subjects merely did not care enough to answer to the best of their ability.
After all, the results did conclude that the quality of their notes was still
good. Consequently, the study would be a measure of motivation.

this study were to be recreated in the future, I would suggest having an equal
number of confederates and subjects to avoid conforming to the majority. In
addition, considering the fact that the experimenters see the test results as
being correlated to the multitaskers, I would recommend creating another
experiment with a control group, containing no multitaskers. This would
determine whether or not the scores had anything to do with the multitaskers.