More factoid tracking

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To continue the process of footnoting Matt Richtel, here's a passage from a bit later in the (online description of his) interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air ("Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets", 8/24/2010):

He points to one study [1] conducted at Stanford University, which showed that heavy multimedia users have trouble filtering out irrelevant information — and trouble focusing on tasks. Other research [2], he says, says that heavy video game playing may release dopamine, which is thought to be involved with addictive behaviors.

"When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline," he says. "Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're conditioned by a neurological response: 'Check me check me check me check me.' "

Richtel says that research is ongoing, particularly into how heavy technology may fundamentally alter the frontal lobe during childhood[3], how addictive behavior can lead to poor decision-making[4] and how the brain is rewired when it is constantly inundated with new information[5].

I've added five unresolved footnotes.  In some cases, the description above may be enough to figure out the specific research involved. Thus a bit of poking around on Google School or the Stanford website can probably find the "study conducted at Stanford University, which showed that heavy multimedia users have trouble filtering out irrelevant information — and trouble focusing on tasks". In other cases, you may need to consult Richtel's series of NYT articles, or more clues presented in the body of the Fresh Air interview, in order to triangulate on the source.

Candidate references, or further clues, will be appreciated. The most helpful suggestions will win a free lifetime subscription to Language Log.


  1. JFM said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    A quick googling reveals at least these:

    "Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game", by Koepp et al. In: Nature, v. 393 (21 May 1998).

    "Decision-making deficits, linked to a dysfunctional ventromedial prefrontal cortex, revealed in alcohol and stimulant abusers" by Bechara et al. In: Neuropsychologia, v. 39 (2001).

    "Decision-making and addiction (part I): impaired activation of somatic states in substance dependent individuals when pondering decisions with negative future consequences" by Bechara & Damasio. In: Neuropsychologia, v. 40 (2002).

  2. Joe said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    I wonder how much of this can be traced back to Nicholas Carr's most recent book, the Shallows.

  3. Jonathan said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    When Tyler Cowen discussed the Richtel article a couple of months ago (negatively, he was sent the following which may have some of the multitasking studies: , though the Foerde article ( is UCLA, not Stanford.

  4. Levi Montgomery said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    Convergence, I guess. I saw this post earlier this morning, then found a link to Nicholas Carr's blog and came here to drop it in the pool, and I find a reference to his latest book. I must confess, I'd never heard of him before, but it's a big, big world.

  5. Levi Montgomery said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    And then this:

  6. The Neurocritic said,

    September 2, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

    I'm fairly certain of this reference:

    [1] Ophir E, Nass C, Wagner AD. Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 15;106(37) 15583-7.

    …A trait media multitasking index was developed to identify groups of heavy and light media multitaskers. These two groups were then compared along established cognitive control dimensions. Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set…

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