Brain Bulletin #51 - What does Multitasking Do to Your Brain?

in Brain Bulletin

Does your brain really multitask?

Neuroscientists say NO. Multitasking is one of the great myths of the modern age.

In my live seminars I often have people close their eyes and try and hold two completely separate thoughts in their "minds eye" at exactly the same time. They quickly discover that they can't. The brain will move quickly back and forth between the two images, or it will try and morph the two images into a single picture.

What does this mean? Your brain gets only one forethought at a time.

Multitasking is actually a computer term that describes a technique by which a computer can split up its work into many processes or tasks. For example, checking email while downloading something from the internet. An illusion is created that everything is happening simultaneously. If fact, the computer is actually switching back and forth between tasks several thousand times per second. Computers with multiple processors overcome this....but your brain doesn't.

When you multitask your attention is actually jumping back and forth between the tasks. To observe this in real time try carrying on a conversation and calculating the tip on a restaurant bill at the same time.

Here are some very interesting findings about multitasking:

  •    The University of California discovered that workers are interupted, on average, 20 times per hour. Employees were only able to focus on one task for no more than 3 minutes.
  •    Multitasking can push your forgetting rate up by forty percent!
  •    Studies in the workplace have found that, after an interuption, it takes 15 minutes for your brain to regain a deep state of concentration.
  •    Students who study in front of the TV, or listening to their favorite tunes, experience a drop in long term memory.
  •    Older males experience the worst effects of multitasking. Younger females, the least.
  •    This may be the worst one of all...... divided attention can produce a condition that scientists call "inattentional blindness".......looking right at something and not seeing it!
  •    While driving a car, a 2 second glance doubles the risk of an accident. Shorter multiple glances, that add up to 2 seconds, also doubles the risk.

John Ratey, Harvard psychiatrist, says that chronic multitasking can cause "pseudo-ADD". Those affected by this continually seek new information and have trouble concentrating on its content.

All this has big implications for your life!

Here is a great article for further reading on this important topic. I try to keep the Brain Bulletin short and to the point...but this article was too good not to include. Here is the link. The article is call "The Limits of Multitasking". You have to scroll to page 62 of the document. Clicking the button in the upper, right corner will make it appear full screen.

I was in Kamloops yesterday speaking at a Safety and Wellness Conference. I started reading a great book. It blew me away. This doesn't happen that often. In the next Brain Bulletin I will tell you what the book is and a bit about it.

Next week I am speaking at UBC and at Ecomm and then off to Toronto to speak twice at an international language conference.

Take care of your brain and don't neglect your heart.....