CogniFit's Science blog: Multitasking And Multitaskers: More Means Less

Multitasking And Multitaskers: More Means Less

Today it seems to be the norm to be multitasking, doing more than one thing at a time. We get more and more information from different sources, which we are expected to process and handle faster than before. Multitasking, no matter what form it takes, means that our brains must use their “executive control function” which is associated with the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex.

Our brain must prioritize and then allocate cognitive resources to all the information flowing into our brains. The assumption would be that the more we practice these skills, the better we would be at them.

Unfortunately, for some people, this is not true and in fact, a study conducted at Stanford University has found just the opposite. People who multitask the most are the ones who are the worst at multitasking!

First the study identified who the “heavy” multitaskers were. It was decided that those people who used four media items at the same time were the “heavies” and those using an average of 1.5 were the “light” multitaskers.

The study tested different cognitive abilities: the ability to ignore irrelevant information; the ability to organize information; memory and the ability to switch from one task to another.

In each of these abilities, the “heavy” multitaskers performed at a much poorer level than the “light” multitaskers.

The difference might lie in the high multitaskers being information “explorers,” people, who want more and more information, while the “light” multitaskers were information “exploiters,” who prefer to think about the information they already have.

Recent events have put multitasking in the spotlight as the controversy builds around allowing or not allowing cell phone use while driving for example or the consequence of heavy internet use.

Some people can’t seem to disconnect themselves from their information flow. New technologies are great as they bring advancement in many different areas of our life and our health. We simply have to know when and how to use them in the most effective way.

It seems evident that individuals will be asked to multitask even more in the future as more communications forms will be created. We need to balance the need to know how to multitask with our capacity to stay focused and keep our concentration ability. Training the cognitive skills that are relevant to multitasking is useful to make you more productive in this area. Still it is important to know when someone has to disconnect so even their brain can rest.