Multitaskers Are Bad at Multitasking, Study Shows

By Eliza Strickland | August 25, 2009 9:58 am

multitaskingDuring 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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain
  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    “We were totally shocked”

    I guess they haven’t been paying attention then. What does your computer do when you try to do too many things at once? Slow down and/or crash.

  • http://21stcenturymummy.com 21st Century Mummy

    There’s me thinking I was amazingly efficient multi-tasker. I got it so wrong!

  • http://www.invaluableinc.com/members/ Dave

    Let the heavy multi-tasker think they are good at multitasking but they got it wrong. When they try to do multiples tasks at once then good luck to them…

  • http://www.invaluableinc.com/members/ Dave Crenshaw

    Multitasking, as most people understand it, is counter-productive and tremendously costly. It hurts us everytime we attempt to engage in it. The heavy multitaskers might be shocked with this but this is definitely true.

    To learn more about the effects of multitasking, take my free exercise at http://www.davecrenshaw.com/exercise

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