Multitasking Can Hurt You More Than You Think
Last Update: Jun 4, 2021
OK - so I got some pushback on my recent blog concerning the practice many driven people use every day - multitasking.
Many of us multitask without even considering the consequences. For example, listening to the car radio while driving. It may seem strange that just the distraction of listening to the radio could affect how you drive - but it does.
Car radios are the leading cause of distracted driving accidents. It is not the most dangerous activity while driving - that would be cell phone use. (especially texting). But the distraction from car radio use is the leading cause of distracted car accidents.
Task Switching Ability
One surprising result from the University of Oregon showed that chronic media multitaskers are more susceptible to distraction from "irrelevant environmental stimuli" They actually performed worse on tasks switching ability tests.
Our central nervous system is set up such that we can only do one thing at a time. This likely had an evolutionary advantage;l when the tiger is charging at you, you do not want to be distracted thinking about picking up that beautiful flower.
Psychology Today noted that you really are not multitasking - that is, processing more than one thing at the same time. Rather, you are task switching from one thing to another. You just can't talk on the phone, send an e-mail, write an instant message to your friend, and watch a YouTube video all at the same time.
Multitaskers are not really "multi" tasking at the same time, they are really serial tasking. Rather than engaging in multiple simultaneous activities, you are shifting your attention from one thing to the other - quickly.
Studies on children who have the TV on while they are trying to do their homework show they do not do as well as those who do not have the TV on.
The constant change in focus from one task to the next takes time - about 40 percent more time than with single-tasking when you change focus while doing only one task at a time.
Multitasking Could Reduce Your IQ
Now let's get to the scarier stuff. A study was done at the University of London showing that participants who multitasked experienced drops in IQ points down to the average level of an 8-year-old child.
Another study showed that multitasking hinders learning. The researchers found that students who used Facebook and responded to texts while doing homework had a lower GPA and grades than those who did not.
Multitasking Can Lead to Permanent Brain Damage
A study from the University of Sussex evaluated the brain structure of those who were multitaskers with those who were not using an MRI. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex.
The implication of their study is that chronic multitaskers could permanently alter their brain structure.
True multitasking - trying to do more than one thing at a time with each of these things requiring attention - leads to worsened cognitive ability, may produce brain structure changes, leads to longer reaction times to change focus from one thing to another, reduces efficiency, and may even reduce your IQ.
More about how to get things done with serial tasking maybe tomorrow.