WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Digital multitasking – such as posting social media while fiddling with the television remote – may lead to depression and anxiety.

Michigan State University lead researcher and psychologist, Mark Becker, expressed surprise that there was such a clear association between multitasking media and mental health issues in the recent study.

However, the cause-and-effect evidence doesn’t indicate the origin of the problem.

“We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,” Becker stated in the study.

A survey by Nielsen released this week showed that 36 per cent of people aged between 35 and 54 used a tablet computer while watching television. That figure rose to 44 per cent for those aged 55-64. A 2012 Pew Research Center study showed that 85 percent of American adults own a cell phone and use the devices for activities other than making phone calls.

While overall media use among American youth has increased 20 percent in the past decade, the amount of time spent multitasking with media spiked 120 percent during that period, Becker said.

In the study, which appears in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, Becker and colleagues surveyed 319 people on their media use and mental health. Participants were asked how many hours per week they used two or more of the primary forms of media, which include television, music, cell phones, text messaging, computer and video games, web surfing and others.

Becker said future research should explore cause and effect. If it turns out media multitasking is causing depression and anxiety, recommendations could be made to alleviate the problem, he said.

Inversely, if depressed or anxious people are turning to media multitasking, that could help them deal with their problems, or could also serve as a warning sign that a youngster is becoming depressed or anxious.

“Whatever the case, it’s very important information to have,” Becker stated in the study. “This could have important implications for understanding how to minimize the negative impacts of increased media multitasking.”