While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress. And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.
From Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, The New York Times, 6-June-10. On the other hand, “the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information, [a]nd players of some video games develop better visual acuity.”
The cited research pitted self-identified multitaskers against non-multitaskers in performing tasks that required filtering irrelevant information, differentiating information, juggling problems, and choosing whether to search for new information or rely on older, more valuable information. Non-multitaskers performed better in all the tests. An explanation–difficult as it is to accept for those who equate multitasking with higher brain function–is that
[a] portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated. Researchers say there is an evolutionary rationale for the pressure this barrage puts on the brain. The lower-brain functions alert humans to danger, like a nearby lion, overriding goals like building a hut. In the modern world, the chime of incoming e-mail can override the goal of writing a business plan or playing catch with the children.
Other research confirms that some “supertaskers” can indeed handle “multiple information streams. Supertaskers constitute three percent of the population but, just as most people believe they, unlike the other idiots on the road, are excellent drivers, I expect most multitaskers number themselves among this three percent, research to the contrary be damned.
Classify me as an un-deluded multitasker. I jump from emails to browsing to bill paying to texts, but I don’t think or feel that I’m being productive. I move projects along by working on one thing for hours. My problem is that I cannot do that at will. I need either pressure, like a deadline, or intellectual immersion that results from interest, energy. open-mindedness, and focus.