Are multitaskers good at multitasking? Not Really
The survey was conducted on 262 college undergraduates, dividing them into high and low multitasking groups and comparing such things as memory, ability to switch from one task to another and being able to focus on a task. Researchers gave the students a form listing a variety of media such as print, television, computer-based video, music, computer games, telephone voice and text. The researchers had thought that people who do a lot of multitasking would be good at ignoring irrelevant information but it wasn't so.
When it came to such essential abilities, people who did a lot of multitasking didn't score as well as others. "We knew that multitasking was difficult from a cognitive perspective. We thought, 'What's this special ability that people have that allows them to multitask?' ... Rather than finding things that they were doing better, we found things they were doing worse," said Eyal Ophir, Professor of Symbolic Systems at Stanford.
Multitasking is already blamed for car crashes as several countries have restricted the use of cell phones while driving. The scientists concluded that constant media multitaskers have difficulty focusing and are not able to ignore irrelevant information. "They couldn't ignore stuff that doesn't matter. They love stuff that doesn't matter. High multitaskers just love more and more information. Their greatest thrill is to get more," said Clifford Nass, a Professor at Stanford's Communications Department.
Ophir says that multitaskers were unable to stop thinking about the task they were not doing. "The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can't keep things separate in their minds," he added.
The researchers' findings are reported in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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