Tag Archives: multitasking

The Inefficiencies of Multitasking

Those who regularly multitask are the worst at multitasking:

In [a test] designed to measure how well [students] could filter out extraneous stimuli from the environment, the subjects had to look for changes in red rectangles while ignoring blue rectangles displayed on a computer monitor. Infrequent multitaskers scored well on the test, but habitual multitaskers performed poorly. The blue rectangles distracted them. In another test, the students had to recognize whether they’d seen a letter before. Both groups got equal numbers right, but the high-media-multitaskers made more mistakes. They “remembered” things they shouldn’t have, indicating-according to the research team-a diminished ability to filter irrelevant information from working memory.

You might expect, however, that frequent multitaskers proved expert at switching between tasks. After all, they get a lot of practice! But the Stanford study proved the opposite to be true. When asked to switch between classifying numbers as even or odd and classifying letters as vowels or consonants, the frequent multitaskers were slower than the low-multitasking students. The researchers suspect that the inability to filter out the previous (and now irrelevant) task may explain the slowdown.

Mind Hacks has an excellent take on this research, and BBC News produces the concise version.

The Neuroscience of Driving

Elderly drivers are the most dangerous on the road, we are often led to believe thanks to the news highlighting accidents involving the aged.

This is not necessarily the case, research is showing, but it’s partly true due to the decline of many cognitive functions. In a comprehensive article looking at the neuroscience of driving, Drake Bennett looks at what safeguards can be put in place to prevent unsuitable drivers from taking to the road and why elderly drivers aren’t inherently bad.

“[Studying driving] turns out to be an excellent way to look at the limits of our attentional abilities, especially as we get older and we start to show significant declines,” says David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. “It’s one of the most direct ways to be able to look at how attention works, how multi-tasking works.” […]

There is such a thing as too much caution, of course: driving too slowly on a highway can be as dangerous as driving too fast. But according to the researchers who study them, the wisdom of the elderly driver consists in treating driving as something dangerous – which, no matter how sharp our skills, it is.

via Mind Hacks