Scientific Breakthroughs

Neuroscientist Says Multitasking Won’t Yield Positive Outcome

Neuroscientist Says Multitasking Won't Yield Positive Outcome
PHOTOGRAPH: William Iven | Photo shows a person attuned to his mobile phone while going over a document with charts.

Always swamped with tasks every single day and ending up multitasking? Before you go around taking pride in your ability to multitask, take a moment to ponder on the downside.

Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tweeted, “It’s true… multitasking is BAD for your brain.” By doing several tasks all at the same time,  you end up being counterproductive. Creative thinking can be disrupted. Worse, the person multitasking is bound to make more mistakes.

The Miller Lab that the neuroscientist represents utilizes experimental and theoretical approaches in studying the neural basis of high-level cognitive functions underlying complex goal-directed behavior.

Neuroscience Says `Quit Multitasking’

When a person multitasks, that individual switches between tasks. It normally takes greater mental energy to get back on track. All the refocusing, backtracking, and fixing of errors not only diminishes the person’s ability to be creative but wastes precious time.

Miller contends that while a person may feel like time is being saved in doing several things at the same time, toggling between tasks necessitates a series of small shifts. The brain deludes the multitasker into thinking that numerous things can actually be done in a given span of time.

The truth is that the human mind can only hold a little bit of information at any single moment. While it may be adaptive for the brain, since prehistoric times, to explore or seek out any new piece of data related or critical to an existing activity or task, it has its limits.

Factoring in the Complexity of Tasks

Doing two tasks at the same time may not make the person do both to the best of his abilities. Simple things like carrying on a conversation with a family member while looking at email may be fine, but handling two tasks requiring greater concentration will most likely produce errors.

University of Utah Psychology Professor David Strayer who studies attention underscored that the brain is not wired to perform several tasks at the same time, nor to handle the sensory overload. Professor Strayer noted that a very minimal subset of the population is considered exceptions. These are individuals who can be adept in balancing multiple demands placed before them. For a thousand others, it may be better to single task rather than to multitask.


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