Research Article: The relationship between internet-gaming experience and executive functions measured by virtual environment compared with conventional laboratory multitasks

Date Published: June 7, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Yong-Quan Chen, Shulan Hsieh, Aviv M. Weinstein.


The aim of this study was to investigate if individuals with frequent internet gaming (IG) experience exhibited better or worse multitasking ability compared with those with infrequent IG experience. The individuals’ multitasking abilities were measured using virtual environment multitasks, such as Edinburgh Virtual Errands Test (EVET), and conventional laboratory multitasks, such as the dual task and task switching. Seventy-two young healthy college students participated in this study. They were split into two groups based on the time spent on playing online games, as evaluated using the Internet Use Questionnaire. Each participant performed EVET, dual-task, and task-switching paradigms on a computer. The current results showed that the frequent IG group performed better on EVET compared with the infrequent IG group, but their performance on the dual-task and task-switching paradigms did not differ significantly. The results suggest that the frequent IG group exhibited better multitasking efficacy if measured using a more ecologically valid task, but not when measured using a conventional laboratory multitasking task. The differences in terms of the subcomponents of executive function measured by these task paradigms were discussed. The current results show the importance of the task effect while evaluating frequent internet gamers’ multitasking ability.

Partial Text

This era of digital technology has brought about revolutionary changes to human civilization. With the development of digital technology, people tend to perform multiple tasks at the same time more often to make their lives more productive. In this study, we are particularly interested in exploring whether more frequent internet gaming (IG) is associated with higher or lower efficacy in multitasking ability. Additionally, we also compare the multitasking ability measured using a naturalistic-based task (i.e., in a virtual environment) with that measured using conventional laboratory executive function tasks.

This study protocol was approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan, R.O.C. to protect the participants’ right according to the Declaration of Helsinki and the rule of research at the University. All participants signed an informed consent form before participating in the experiments.

Seventy-eight young healthy college students who were recruited via a bulletin board system and advertisements in BBS and on Facebook participated in this study. Two of them did not fill in questionnaires properly and 4 of them did not complete the experimental tasks, hence only 72 (36 females; 36 males) participants’ data remained to be analyzed. The sample size was chosen based on prior research that analyzed the lowest and highest 25% of media-use scores from 92 participants, resulting in 23 participants for each group [12]. The two groups’ switch costs reached statistical significance at p = 0.02. In order to reach a power of 0.8 and p < 0.05, the estimated sample size was at least 18 subjects per group. The remaining participants were right-handed, and 20 to 30 years old (mean age, 23.43; SD, 2.21). Individuals aged from 20 to 30 years are considered as digital natives ( No history of neurological, psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular diseases or any forms of addiction (e.g., alcohol, drug, internet, etc.) was detected in the self-report. All participants were not at risk of depression or anxiety disorder, as evaluated using the Beck Depression Inventory II (scores < 13; [39–41]) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (scores < 7; [42–43]). Each participant received an honorarium of NT$350 (US $12) for completing the study. Minimal data set for Tables 1–5 presented in the Results section can be found in S1 File. The aim of this study was to investigate whether individuals with frequent IG experience exhibited better or worse multitasking ability than those with infrequent IG experience, using virtual environment and conventional laboratory tasks. The idea of comparing the EVET with dual tasks or task switching may not be novel [35, 44], but it has not been explored in young, healthy populations of frequent and infrequent internet gamers. The results showed that participants in the frequent IG group performed better than those in the infrequent IG group according to the EVET. However, the performance of frequent IG group on the dual task (visual–visual; visual–auditory) and task switching (switch cost; mixing cost) did not differ significantly from that of infrequent IG group.   Source:


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