You’re sitting in class typing notes, checking Facebook, texting lunch plans, and streaming the new episode of Heroes; but what are you actually accomplishing?
Once widely accepted as an efficient way to complete multiple things at once, multitasking has been shown to inhibit productivity and cause stress. Instead of performing several tasks at once, multitasking jumps from one thought to the next. It gives the illusion that we’re concentrating on multiple things, when in reality we’re sacrificing our focus.
Before computers, writing a paper meant a typewriter and maybe a couple textbooks. Now it includes instant messaging and checking your email. A survey in the UK found that even a simple book is replaced when using the loo; one in ten broadband users browse the Internet while on the toilet.
Technology has created many opportunities to multitask and has inclined researchers to investigate what happens when the brain switches from one task to the next.
The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls most thought processes, is much larger in humans than in other animals. The prefrontal cortex occupies one-third of a human cortex, compared to 15 percent in monkeys.
Researchers found that when there are multiple visual stimulants, the brain is only focusing on one or two items at a time. This is because related tasks vie to use the same part of the brain. It’s like talking on the phone and writing down something completely unrelated. They both use the same part of the brain.
In 2001, a study found that it only takes seconds to move between tasks, however, those brief moments add up when constantly changing focus. In fact, this repetitive switch becomes much more harmful when forced to swap between more complicated tasks.
Humans are able to perform a couple activities if they are routine, however, the situation becomes much more serious when performing tasks that require real concentration.
A study conducted in the U.K. found that when 17- to 24-year-olds text while driving, their reaction time is 35 percent slower than when under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. Washington State prohibits the use of cell phones while driving for this very reason.
Multitasking has become more popular among younger people and is a habit developed often in teenagers. Researchers aren’t sure whether multitasking at an age when the brain is still developing has any serious consequences. Some believe it may affect a young person’s ability to focus and develop analytic skills. They predict that with the lack of concentration when multitasking it is impossible to gain a depth of knowledge.
It is not always harmful to multitask, it depends what upon the activity. Listening to music may help you work more creatively. Without our enhanced ability to multitask, the human race may not have been able to hunt animals bigger and stronger than us with more success than other animals.