Multitaskers Are Bad at Multitasking, Study Shows

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandAug 25, 2009 6:58 PM


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During both work hours and leisure time, a growing number of people have become extravagant multitaskers, flitting between Web browsing, texting, emailing, and maybe even throwing in some old-fashioned television or print media for good measure. But a surprising new study has found that those who multitask the most are far worse at it than those people who focus on fewer tasks simultaneously. Says study coauthor Clifford Nass:

"The huge finding is, the more media people use the worse they are at using any media. We were totally shocked" [AP]. 

The researchers compared high- and low-multitaskers on a variety of psychological tests, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They found that the high-multitaskers were worse at ignoring irrelevant information, worse at organizing information, and took more time to switch between tasks. That final finding

particularly surprised the researchers, considering the need to switch from one thing to another in multitasking. "They couldn't help thinking about the task they weren't doing," lead author Eyal Ophir said [AP].

As for what caused the differences — whether people with a predisposition to multitask happen to be mentally disorganized, or if multitasking feeds the condition — “that’s the million dollar question, and we don’t have a million dollar answer,” said Nass [Wired.com].

Related Content: 80beats: Key Brain Section Never Multitasks—It Just Switches Very Fast 80beats: TV Can Slow Language Development, Even in the Background 80beats: Researcher Updates His Twitter Feed Using Only Brainwaves

Image: flickr / Mike Licht

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