What you need to know:
Multitasking has always been thought of as a skill to be proud of. Some studies have even pronounced women to be the champions of multitasking, praising them for this ‘unique’ attribute. Now other studies say multitasking might not be as avantageous as once thought.
Multitasking simply refers to carrying out two or more tasks simultaneously. Thanks to the technological advancement, multitasking is now common practice.
It is no longer a surprise that an individual is able to answer emails, chat with friends while also attending a meeting. In fact in our continually demanding world, it looks like the only way to be truly productive is to always be involved in as many activities as possible at all times.
New studies, however, have found that multitasking is not something to brag, but to worry about. These studies suggest that multitasking causes us to actually make more mistakes, retain less information, and change the way our brains work.
The brain and multitasking
The prefrontal cortex of the brain begins working anytime you need to pay attention.
This area of your brain helps keep your attention on a single goal and carry out the task by coordinating messages with other brain systems. Working on a single task means both sides of the prefrontal cortex are working together in harmony. Adding another task forces the left and right sides of the brain to work independently.
Scientists at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in Paris discovered this when they asked study participants to complete two tasks at the same time while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging . The results showed that the brain splits in half and causes us to forget details and make three times more mistakes when given two simultaneous goals.
It is important to note that multitasking while doing natural tasks such as eating and walking is much easier than more complicated tasks such as texting while driving.
Those natural tasks place less of a demand on the prefrontal cortex, creating an easier switch between eating and walking to your next meeting. Not only does multitasking make us less productive, it may also be lowering our IQ and overall efficiency at work.
A study by the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks, experienced an IQ score decline similar to those who have stayed up all night. Some of the multitasking men had their IQ drop 15 points, leaving them with the average IQ of an eight-year-old child.
In one 2009 study, Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass found that people who were considered heavy multitaskers were actually worse at sorting out relevant information from irrelevant details. This is particularly surprising because it was assumed that this is something that heavy multitaskers would actually be better at. But that wasn’t the only problem these high multitaskers faced. They also showed greater difficulty when it came to switching from one task to another and were much less mentally organised.
So is the damage from multitasking permanent, or will putting an end to multitasking undo the damage? Nass suggested that while further investigations are needed, the current evidence suggests that people who stop multitasking will be able to perform better. Experts also suggest that the negative impact of chronic, heavy multitasking might be the most detrimental to adolescent minds.
At this age, in particular, teen brains are busy forming important neural connections. Spreading attention so thin and constantly being distracted by different streams of information might have a serious, long-term, negative impact on how these connections form. While this is an area that still requires considerable research, experts believe that teens — those who often engage in media multitasking the most heavily — may be particularly vulnerable to any negative consequences of multitasking.
Additional information from appliedpsychology.com