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Multitasking Follies

Researchers at Stanford University came to a surprising conclusions after studying the concentration capabilities of habitual multi-taskers.

College students walking around on a campus.

Photo: hoyasmeg (flickr)

Habitual multi?taskers actually have trouble concentrating on more than one thing at once.

In today’s plugged in, online, information‑saturated world, it’s good to be a skilled multi‑tasker, right?  Unless you’re able to “tweet”, chat, and update your Facebook status all at the same time, you’re sure to fall behind the curve.

Or maybe not

According to  one study, habitual multi‑taskers actually have trouble concentrating on more than one thing at once. The researchers, at Stanford, studied about one-hundred multi‑tasking students to see how well they performed on simple tests.

For example, identifying pairs of letters flashing on a computer screen and recognizing a letter that was the same as one shown two or three letters earlier.

Now, you might assume that students used to habitual multi‑tasking would be good at this.  But you’d be wrong.  The researchers found that the heavy multi‑taskers were also the most easily distracted.

They actually had a harder time carrying out simple letter identification tasks than lighter multi‑taskers.  Chronic multi‑taskers were also slower at switching between tasks.

So what does this mean?

Well, it suggests that, at some basic level, the human brain isn’t really wired for multi‑tasking. Generally speaking, we’re better able to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Other studies have come to similar conclusions–like ones showing that talking on a cell phone or texting while driving are great ways to up the likelihood of getting in an accident.

As for why multi‑tasking is so prominent and even encouraged at work and in school–that will require further study.

  • larryfullerton

    Young people that multi-task work on 11 things at once but never complete any of them. It used to be that you could get things done with one phone call (before 1993 when the first generation of both parents working hit the work force) but now you have to follow up on everything. Also they make promises (ie tell you what you want to hear) but do not follow through. That is why you have to keep following up on everything a young person tells you.

  • larryfullerton

    Young people that multi-task work on 11 things at once but never complete any of them. It used to be that you could get things done with one phone call (before 1993 when the first generation of both parents working hit the work force) but now you have to follow up on everything. Also they make promises (ie tell you what you want to hear) but do not follow through. That is why you have to keep following up on everything a young person tells you.

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