Think Again: You're Not Good at Multitasking
October 9, 2014
You might want to rethink texting while trying to hold a conversation. Multitasking actually makes you less productive than doing one single thing at a time, and may even damage your brain, according to a study conducted by Stanford University researchers. Forbes.com recently highlighted a series of research studies that show multitasking is not a skill to boast about.
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In the Stanford University study, research participants who regularly multitasked and were bombarded with several sources of electronic information failed to pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who just focused on one task at a time. Those who tend to be “heavy multitaskers” – who do it a lot and believe it helps their performance – were found to pay the biggest price.
"They're suckers for irrelevancy," says Clifford Nass, one of the researchers and a communication professor at Stanford. "Everything distracts them."
Indeed, researchers found that “heavy multitaskers” tend to struggle more at organizing their thoughts, filtering out irrelevant information, and are slower at switching from one task to another.
Besides just slowing you down, multitasking has also been linked with lower IQs. In a separate study conducted by researchers at the University of London, researchers found that those who multitask during cognitive tasks had IQ scores similar to what you’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or didn’t get any sleep the night before. In fact, multitasking men were found to have IQ drops of 15 points, which put many in the average range of an 8-year-old child.
Some researchers using MRI scans even suggest that multitasking on multiple devices – like texting while watching TV – can damage your brain, although more research is needed to confirm. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain responsible for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.
“I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure,” says Kep Kee Loh, a neuroscientist and the study’s lead author.
Source: “Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Studies Suggest,” Forbes.com (Oct. 8, 2014)
Updated: September 20, 2019