Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Study finds people who multitask are often bad at it

I thought this article was kind of amusing. I like to multitask, and I think I do it pretty well, but I also realize that sometimes it's better to do things one at a time.

Stanford University researchers put 100 students through a series of three tests and found that heavy media multitaskers -- those who regularly juggle e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, while watching TV, surfing the internet, and doing homework -- tend to be distracted by everything.

In each test, the students were separated into two groups: those who do a lot of media multitasking and those who don't. In the first test, they were shown two sets of images -- two red rectangles, and two red rectangles surrounded blue rectangles -- and were told to ignore the blue rectangles and determine if the red rectangles in the second image were in a different position than in the first image. While the heavy multitaskers had trouble ignoring the blue rectangles, the low multitaskers aced the test. The second test showed that the heavy multitaskers weren't any better at memorizing things (sorting and organizing information) either. They were shown sequences of alphabetical letters, but they were not very good at remembering when a letter popped up twice. In the third test, they were shown images of letters and numbers at the same time and were told what to focus on, and once again the heavy multitaskers weren't any better than low multitaskers at switching from one task to another.

The researchers concluded that when multitaskers are bombarded with multiple sources of information, they can't filter out the irrelevant stuff, which ultimately hinders their performance. But they are still studying whether chronic media multitaskers are born with the inability to concentrate or whether they are hurting their brain functions by taking in so much information at the same time.

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