Monday, August 24, 2009

Multitaskers Bad at Multitasking

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that people who consider themselves multitaskers aren't actually very good at multitasking.

"Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set. These results demonstrate that media multitasking, a rapidly growing societal trend, is associated with a distinct approach to fundamental information processing."

BBC News article


Peter said...

My reading of the BBC report, not the study itself, reveals that there is a difference between two groups, namely "those who routinely consumed multiple media such as internet, television and mobile phones, and those who did not." The difference is that the second group performed better "in a series of three classic psychology tests for attention and memory" than the first, who many characterize as 'digital natives.'

I take this to be evidence of a growing 'digital divide,' but not the one that you are trying to debunk. That is, immersion in a digital environment is having a impact on attention and memory, not the oft proclaimed positive one - but a negative one. There is a difference.

If this is true, I believe education has to take heed of this finding.

Mark Bullen said...

Thanks for your comment. I agree, these results are interesting. What the study wasn't able to determine was causality...did the multitasking behaviour affect the performance of that group or is there something about people who are drawn to multitasking that affects their performance on these kinds of tasks?