THE BLOG

Multitasking Might Be Damaging You

08/15/2012 07:56 am ET | Updated Oct 15, 2012

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In our hectic daily lives, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by our ever-growing to-do lists. In an age where multitasking hasn't just become second nature, but our only nature, it's important to take a step back and think about the effects these choices are having on our lives. In a study conducted at Stanford University, researchers found that, "People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time."

Here's an excerpt from an article written by Adam Gorlick about the research and its results:

In the study, about 100 students were put through a series of three tests. The subjects were split into two groups: those who regularly do a lot of media multitasking and those who don't. In one experiment, the groups were shown sets of two red rectangles alone or surrounded by two, four or six blue rectangles. Each configuration was flashed twice, and the participants had to determine whether the two red rectangles in the second frame were in a different position than in the first frame. They were told to ignore the blue rectangles, and the low multitaskers had no problem doing that. But the high multitaskers were constantly distracted by the irrelevant blue images. Their performance was horrible.

Because the high multitaskers showed they couldn't ignore things, the researchers figured they were better at storing and organizing information. Maybe they had better memories. The second test proved that theory wrong. After being shown sequences of alphabetical letters, the high multitaskers did a lousy job at remembering when a letter was making a repeat appearance.

So the researchers conducted a third test. If the heavy multitaskers couldn't filter out irrelevant information or organize their memories, perhaps they excelled at switching from one thing to another faster and better than anyone else. Wrong again, the study found. The test subjects were shown images of letters and numbers at the same time and instructed what to focus on. When they were told to pay attention to numbers, they had to determine if the digits were even or odd. When told to concentrate on letters, they had to say whether they were vowels or consonants. Again, the heavy multitaskers underperformed the light multitaskers.

At the time the study was conducted, the researchers were still studying whether media multitaskers are damaging their cognitive control by willingly taking in so much at once. But they're certain the minds of multitaskers are not working as well as they could. So if you're checking out your friend's latest status update on Facebook, maybe it's time to stop watching your favorite TV show, too. And think again before reading all the news online if you're already texting your friends about meeting up tonight. Apart from the benefits of reduced levels of stress and anxiety in your life, by choosing to do less, you might accomplish more too.

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