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Exploitation–Exploration Model of Media Multitasking

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-1105/a000303

Abstract. Media multitasking has been long considered as a distraction, as something that is inherently negative or irrational. Yet, casual observations and study findings indicate that in the current permanently online, permanently connected society, people still media multitask frequently, sometimes in spite of their knowledge of the costs. In this article, we introduce the exploitation–exploration model of media multitasking (EEMMM), which proposes that media multitasking occurs as a natural part of the waxing and waning of our task engagement: When primary task engagement (exploitation) begins to wane, alternative tasks become more attractive (exploration). In the first part of this paper, we delineate the limitations of the current perspective of media multitasking as a distraction. The second part provides an exposition for our model: What defines behavior exploitation and exploration, and why maintaining an optimal trade-off between the two is important; the everyday, media-related cues for exploiting and exploring; and the neurobiological evidence of a brain system that supports the transition from exploitation to exploration. Lastly, we show how our approach may explain why people media multitask spontaneously and in spite of their knowledge of the costs, and why not all media multitaskers are able to multitask optimally. We conclude the paper with an agenda for future media multitasking research based on the proposed framework.

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