The Freedom to Lose Control: Self-Regulation Difference in Heavy versus Light Media Multitaskers - Implication for Advertising Effectiveness

Publication Date: Thursday 26 January 2017
Author(s): Emma Beuckels; Veroline Cauberghe & Liselot Hudders
Appeared in: Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap


Past research suggests that heavy media multitaskers (HMMs) perform worse on tasks that require self-regulation compared to light media multitaskers (LMMs). This paper further investigates whether these individual differences stem from differences in the ability versus the motivation to self-regulate one’s attention by manipulating participants’ autonomy of attention allocation. In a first between-subjects experimental study (n = 85) results suggest that HMMs performed worse on a self-regulation task than LMMs after multitasking freely (in which case their motivation might determine the process) but not after their attention was guided externally by the experimenter (in which case their motivation could no longer determine the process). These findings suggest that motivation rather than ability to self-regulate drives the observed performance differences. Study two (n = 91) further replicates these results in a media multitasking environment by showing that the perceived cognitive load is higher among HMMs than LMMs, when autonomy over attention allocation is high but not when it is low. In addition, this study examines the implications of these attention deficits for the effectiveness of advertising embedded within this media environment. The results suggest that under conditions of high autonomy HMMs are more persuaded by the advertisements (report higher purchase intentions) in the media content compared to LMMs, while no differences appear under conditions of low autonomy.

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